7 FACTORS IN PHILLIPSBURG-FRANKLIN FOOTBALL GAME
It's been a long, long training camp for the Phillipsburg football team ... almost a month of practices, three scrimmages, and endless drilling, weight-lifting and going over the playbook.
But that all comes to end Friday night when Franklin visits Maloney Stadium for a Mid-State 37 Delaware Division clash.
"I can't wait, it's been so long," said Stateliner senior cornerback/wide receiver Stephen Davis said. "Especially for my senior year."
Franklin went 1-9 in 2016, but faced one of the most brutal schedules in the state. The Warriors are on their third head coach in three seasons in former Keyport coach John Paczkowski.
Phillipsburg topped Franklin 20-6 in the 2016 opener in a game that may have been much more closely contested than the score appeared. A defensive touchdown made a key difference for the Stateliners.
What factors will make the biggest impact Friday night? Scroll down through the story to find out.
Stateliner fast start
Franklin has not enjoyed much success on the gridiron lately. The Warriors have not won more than two games in any season since 2012. So it's safe to say Franklin won't enter Maloney Stadium after the long bus ride from Somerset brimming over with confidence.
But the Warriors could gain confidence if they hang around in the game. The longer the score is closer, the more Franklin gains self-belief.
A fast start for Phillipsburg would, by contrast, really deal a blow to Franklin's confidence, especially in an environment as tough one visiting teams as Maloney.
"It would be awesome to start really strongly," Stateliner junior quarterback Jack Staagard said. "It would really boost our confidence. We know what we have to do."
Contain Tony Scott
Frankiln's senior quarterback, Tony Scott, is the kind of playmaker and athlete, who, if allowed to play his game, can dominate defenses with his speed and quickness. Keeping him under control will be crucial for Phillipsburg.
"We really have to defend (Scott's) running, he's really elusive," Davis said. "And we have to fluster him to stop the passing game. If we do that we'll win the game."
Phillipsburg head coach Frank Duffy said the key to stopping Scott is to keep him in the pocket.
"He's really athletic and he extends plays and is explosive with his feet," Duffy said. "He's really dangerous when he scrambles. Keeping him in the pocket is really a key part of the game for us."
And if Scott is harassed enough, takeaways may come.
"We have working on creating more takeaways as a defense since we started in June," Davis said. "We really want to fly to the ball and attack and attack the ball. We need more takeaways as a defense."
Despite the most meticulous preseason preparation, some parts of football can't be practiced. They need a game to be tested, as Duffy well knows.
"We have not seen how our team will do over four quarters of football, and we need to have a four-quarter mentality," Duffy said. "Having to play four quarters of football will be new to everybody for this year, players and coaches. We have to maintain a level of excellence over all four quarters. That's what I am really looking for in the first game. I don't want to see any lack of consistency. The great teams, Alabama, the New England Patriots, they're not perfect, but they are very consistent. I want to see a 48-minute effort from us, and who knows what the fourth quarter will bring? We have to go into the fourth quarter with the mentality that it's 0-0."
Stagaard in spotlight
Jack Stagaard started two games at quarterback for Phlilipsburg last season before being injured and missing the rest of the season with a hand injury.
But neither was at home.
He can't wait to step on the Maloney Stadium field.
"It's going to be crazy, my first home game," he said. "I haven't been out there under the Friday night lights. Once I get out there I am sure I'll have some nerves but will snap out of it."
Stagaard is considerably more rugged at 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds than he was as a sophomore and he's stronger in other ways too.
"I feel like I have gotten smarter," he said. "I think I know how to perform better in certain situations. I have improved with my mechanics. I have to try and remember how to do all the little things."
Stagaard had plenty of time to watch and learn after his frustrating injury in 2016.
"It was the worst thing ever having to just watch," he said. "And I had to let the hand heal, my right hand, and I couldn't even do normal things like eating my Fruit Loops. I had to learn to do everything differently."
Explosive ups and downs
Pretty simple: Phillipsburg wants to be exploding while not letting Franklin break any big plays.
"We have stop the explosive plays and be an explosive offense when we have the ball," Davis said.
The Stateliners have some offensive weapons ready to explode such as juniors Joe Green and Nasir Ball. Franklin doesn't lack for potential big play threats either. Who his the most home runs may well prove crucial.
Stephen Davis. (Jim Middlekauff| lehighvalleylive.com contributor)
Phillipsburg will always be a run-first team, but Duffy wants a better run/pass balance than in 2016 when the Stateliners only rarely offered a threat through the air.
"It doesn't have to be 50/50, but we have to be able to take what the defense gives you," he said. "We have stressed balance since day one. We've been able to make those plays in scrimmages and have gotten better on them every scrimmage."
That means P'burg receievers such as Ball, Davis, and tight end Sean Morro may be busier than in 2016.
The best way to keep Franklin's offensive athletes off the scoreboard is to keep them on the bench.
"We have to be able to chew time off the clock and sustain drives," Duffy said. "Big plays are nice, but not every play we call has big-play potential."
Running backs Joe Green and Abdul Salahudin will get the call to grind down Franklin behind the Stateliners' all-senior offensive line.
Brad Wilson may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.