Two exceptional groups of seniors will take the field one last time when Phillipsburgmeets North Hunterdon for the NJSIAA North 2 Group 4 football championship at MetLife Stadium Saturday at 1 p.m. in a game that will be live-streamed on lehighvalleylive.com.
The Stateliner seniors reversed a 5-5 season as juniors into a 10-1 mark, including a Mid-State 37 Delaware Division championship. They seek a state title that evaded them as sophomores in 2015.
“I am excited for our seniors to go out on the right note, to go out on a high note,” Phillipsburg head coach Frank Duffy said. “I am excited to watch our seniors play one more time and win a sectional title.”
The Lion seniors have, according to head coach Jared Mazzetta, “totally changed the entire culture of North Hunterdon football.”
North Hunterdon has not played for a sectional crown since 1978 or won one since 1975, so it’s obvious this senior class has made an enormous difference.
“I remember when we were freshmen our defensive coordinator, Kevin Kley, told us when we were freshman we’d play in a state championship game,” Lion senior safety Connor McMahon said. “And look four years and we actually are in the state title game. It would mean the world for us to win.”
Mazzetta said his seniors are accomplished on and off the field.
“They are involved in a lot of community activities and are high-academic achieving kids,” he said. “They have the hard-hat mentality we have installed but they still know how to have fun at the same time. They had a losing record (3-6) as freshmen and they were not satisfied with that. They worked hard to compete better, and to overcome the 5-5, 6-4 mentality North football was in. They have made all the plays, and they’ve showed their character with a lot of gutsy wins this season.”
If North Hunterdon wears hard hats, Phillipsburg are hunters.
“We’re a pack,” senior cornerback Stephen Davis said. “When we step on the field, we play like brothers. We’re a brotherhood before, during and even after the season.”
The Stateliner seniors took their struggles as juniors to heart and put in the effort, in the weight room, film room and practice field, to leave the .500 miasma behind, as the Lions did, and become a championship team. The improvement of many Stateliner seniors – too many to single out – has been evident since the September opener and they have kept getting better.
Phillipsburg’s seniors also have experience in a state final, losing in 2015 to Middletown South as sophomores.
“That didn’t go the way we wanted,” Davis said. “But this year I think we have more of a good feeling going in.
North Hunterdon lacks that kind of experience but the Lions may benefit from experience of a different kind in different ways.
“We start 10 seniors on defense,” Lion senior linebacker Erik Dehkes said. “Every game we have gotten closer and that helps us in tremendous ways we can’t get in practice. We’ve all been together since fifth grade. It’s been amazing this season to see it all come together. It would mean everything for us to win.”
Mazzetta spoke for both teams when he summed up what Saturday means.
“It’s the biggest stage in New Jersey high school football and we have a chance to win a title,” he said. “It means a lot to our school, our community and our seniors.”
Especially the seniors – Stateliner and Lion – who have the chance to go out in style as champions.
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.