PHILLIPSBURG FOOTBALL SWAMPS FRANKLIN IN SECOND-HALF SURGE
Phillipsburg 47, Franklin 13 – Rapid Recap
The Stateliners delighted a packed house at Bellis Field at Maloney Stadium as they scored 26 unanswered points to pull away from the Warriors in a Mid-State 37 Delaware Division clash in the season opener for both teams.
Phillipsburg junior quarterback Jack Stagaard threw for two touchdowns, Stateliner running backs Frank Stettner and Joe Green ran for two touchdowns each, and the Phillipsburg defense cracked down on Franklin’s Michael Vick-esque quarterback Tony Scott in the second half to send the big crowd away positively buzzing.
“Scott is a good football player, really dynamic,” Phillipsburg head coach Frank Duffy said. “We did a decent job on him but we needed to tackle better.”
Scott was held to minus-27 rushing yards after the half as the Stateliner defense did a better job staying home and not overrunning the play.
On offense, the Stateliners took the air more often in the first half as Franklin stacked the box to deny the run. But Stagaard (8-for-18, 135 yards, 2 TDs, 0 interceptions) was effective enough, if not always on target, to allow the hosts to move the ball effectively and open up the Warrior defense for the run.
“We were taking what the defense gave us and they really denied us the run.” Duffy said. “We have to do that, to take what the give us.”
Phillipsburg’s final TD came on an unusual special teams player when a kickoff by senior Billy Oertel died at the Franklin 2; the Warriors fumbled it into the end zone where Phillipsburg sophomore Tommy Coury recovered for a score.
Turning point: With nine seconds to go in the second quarter and Phillipsburg leading 21-13, Franklin faced a fourth-and-goal from the Stateliner 6. The ever-dangerous Scott rolled out on a play he could run or pass on. Stateliner pass rushers Zach Leong, a senior lineman, and Christopher Gurneak, a junior linebacker, took away the ground option by getting in Scott’s face forcing a heave to the end zone where junior linebacker Mark Zgoda broke it up.
“That absolutely was the momentum changer in the game,” Phillipsburg senior tight end/linebacker Sean Morro said. “If we don’t hold them there, they score, are in still in the game and have all the momentum.”
Instead, Phillipsburg went into the half fired up, and took that fire and channeled it into a 51-yard scoring drive after the second half capped by a 9-yard TD pass from Stagaard to junior wideout Ray Stem for a 27-13 lead that Franklin never came close to trimming.
“Keeping them out of the end zone was huge before halftime,” Duffy said. “I was really proud of our defense.”
Top performer: His name doesn’t show up all that much on the stat sheet (2 catches, 33 yards), but Morro made plays all over the field and played a large role in limiting the damage done by Scott with his nifty elusiveness, especially in the second half when the visitors were held scoreless.
“I think we started digging in the second half,” Morro said. “That’s our motto – dig. We had a little bit of a letdown in the first half but we kept our heads up.”
Morro had help from senior defensive end Jalen Boothman in corralling Scott, as well from Leong. But Morro was, seemingly, everywhere. On offense, junior running back Green helped Phillipsburg take control after the half with 133 second-half rushing yards (157 total).
“I like to think I am a second-half player,” said Green, who scored on TD runs of 20 and 58 yards. “I think we wore Franklin down in the second half.”
No doubt about it.
“In the second half we were able to impose our will on those powers and iso and Franklin just could not stop it,” Morro said. “That’s the best feeling ever for an offensive lineman.”
What it means: Phillipsburg showed much better offensive balance than it did in 2016. Stagaard was far from perfect, but he didn’t need to be, and many of the passes he missed will be connections when he’s a little more settled in – Friday was his Maloney debut. The Stateliners certainly looked like a divisional championship contender. It’s true Franklin is perhaps the division’s weakest team, but Phillipsburg did what strong teams do: took over the game in the second half.
“It’s a great way to win the home opener, “ Duffy said. “Especially for the seniors. They only get one chance at a home opener.”
And the Stateliner seniors made the most of it Friday night.
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.