PLAYOFF-READY PHILLIPSBURG FOOTBALL DOMINATES IMMACULATA ACROSS THE BOARD
Phillipsburg 43, Immaculata 14 – Mid-State 37 cross-division football – Rapid Recap
The absence of junior 1,000-yard rusher Joe Green slowed the Stateliners down not at all as they thumped the Spartans in front of an impressive if well-chilled (thanks to some howling winds) crowd at Brooks Field in Somerville Friday night.
Phillipsburg (8-0) posted 28 points in the second quarter to take the game over. Remarkably, it was the first win for the Stateliners in four tries against Immaculata (5-4). As head coach Frank Duffy told his team afterwards, “it’s good to get that zero off our backs. We don’t want any team having anything over us.”
The Spartans didn’t have much chances of doing that Friday night. Phillipsburg’s first-team defense pitched a shutout as Immaculata scored on a kickoff return and against the second team. The Spartans only managed 171 yards and nine first downs on the night.
“It always feels good to get a zero but we have a lot of stuff to clean up,” said Stateliner sophomore middle linebacker Bobby Coury, who had a fumble recovery and a boatload of teeth-rattling tackles. “Their first drive we gave up some big plays but when they got in our territory we were able to shut them down and that felt good.”
Duffy liked what he saw from his defense against Immaculata’s dangerous spread offense.
“We played real disciplined football tonight and we were able to pressure the quarterback with just our front four,” he said.
Offensively, without Green who is sidelined by an arm injury, Phillipsburg turned to running back by committee. 11 different Stateliners carried the ball, with five – Sterling Walker-Sutton, Abdul Salahuddin, Jeff Vitale, Jack Stagaard, and Frank Stettner – scoring touchdowns. Walker-Sutton, who led the Stateliners with 82 yards on 17 carries, scored twice.
“I didn’t know I’d be getting the ball this much,” said Walker-Sutton, who ground out tough yards between the tackles with help from the blocking of senior tight end Jevon Boothman. “It’s just the next man up situation. I like to run the ball between the tackles and do whatever the team needs.”
Overall, another very impressive performance from a Stateliner squad ready to face the playoffs.
“We have some things to work on but I like where we are now,” Duffy said.
Turning point: Immaculata’s two second-quarter fumbles on consecutive Spartan plays at their own 33 and 16, respectively, recovered by junior defensive back Nasir Ball and Coury. Philipsburg cashed them both in for touchdowns to take a 7-0 lead to 21-0, and with the scores grabbed control of the game for good. Phillipsburg’s opportunistic play after the recoveries helped cushion the blow of Shahkyle Matthews’ 99-yard kickoff return right before the half for the Spartans, and certainly sent a message to the Spartans that, this time, Phillipsburg was dictating how the game went.
Top performer: It wasn’t a night for stars in Stateliner land. Much was done via committee and a whole bunch of different players stepping up at different times. But senior linebacker and tight end Sean Morro, who did not play last week against North Hunterdon after suffering a blow to the head at Montgomery, looked like his old self. Morro made 4 catches for 47 yards, ran the ball 3 times for 15 yards and was, as usual, all over the field on defense. Morro being 100 percent had to be an enormous relief to Stateliner fans, who know how critical his play will be for postseason and Thanksgiving success. “Sean is money,” Duffy said.
What it means: For the first time in over a decade Phillipsburg is unbeaten at the close of league play heading into next week’s NJSIAA North 2 Group 4 quarterfinal, which will be at Phillipsburg against an opponent to be determined. The Stateliners showed they could handle a solid team on their home field even with Green out, and built a whole lot of confidence and momentum heading into the playoffs and Thanksgiving. “It feels good to be 8-0,” Bobby Coury said. “But now we have to take it one game at a time the rest of the way.”
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.