How did Phillipsburg overcome Warren Hills in Friday night’s football season opener at a festive Maloney Stadium?
The Stateliners’ 35-7 win over the Blue Streaks in the team’s first meeting since 2009 sprang, from several sources, some of them with roots on the Phillipsburg side of the field, some on the Warren Hills side.
We’ve picked 9 major reasons why Phillipsburg, ranked No. 5 in the region by lehighvalleylive, had things mostly their way against an opponent they have not lost to in 17 seasons for win number 686 in program history.
Scroll through the story to see what we think made the difference.
1. The big one: the blocked punt
Everybody agreed the game’s key moment came at the 10:50 mark of the second quarter.
Warren Hills, trailing 7-0, had, not for the first or last time in the game, had a drive crippled by a holding penalty and had to punt from its own 32-yard-line.
That was all Phillipsburg head coach Frank Duffy needed to see.
“My philosophy is that you have a better chance of blocking the punt than setting up a return,”he said. “That’s why we’re so aggressive trying to block punts.”
Duffy dialed up an all-out assault and Blue Streak punter Rob Wassmuth never had a chance. Stateliner junior Bobby Coury crushed attempted blockers and swatted the punt down at the 20. His twin brother Tommy scooped up the ball at the 16 and roared in the end zone for a touchdown.
It looked like a highlight film.
“I don’t know if anything ever looks like it did in practice,” Duffy said. “I felt coming into the game we could block a punt.”
Phillipsburg scored on its next two possessions and never looked back.
“The blocked punt was huge,” Stateliner senior quarterback Jack Stagaard said. “It changed the whole game.” That was a statement Warren Hills coach George DiGrande was in full agreement with.
Duffy had just that in mind.
“There’s been studies done that say when you block a punt, you stand a really good chance of winning the game,” he said.
Add one more positive result to those studies.
2. Stagaard stands tall
Having an experienced senior quarterback such as Stagaard with an array of weapons at his disposal was certainly one root the Stateliner victory sprang from.
With Warren Hills loading up to stop the Stateliners’ interior running game -- with some success -- and denying deep over-the-middle pass routes, Stagaard turned to finding his receivers in the flat and along the sidelines.
“They were giving us the sidelines, so we took what they gave us,” said Stagaard, who completed 17 of 26 passes for 197 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. “The passing game was there. I still think I could have been a little better.”
Stagaard completed passes to seven different receivers, not allowing Warren Hills to key on any one Stateliner. Often several were open.
“They get open, and I just throw it there,” Stagaard said.
3. New line does fine
Phillipsburg’s all-new offensive line played a major role in Stagaard’s performance.
“I never had (Blue Streak) pass rushers around me,” said Stagaard, who was not sacked and only rarely bothered.
Senior tri-captain and guard Matt Cherry said the group reveled in Stagaard’s success.
“We feel a lot of pride in being a part of what Jack did,” Cherry said. “I love watching him complete pass after pass. I think we did OK. The protection was there. We know we can do a lot better, but tonight we weren’t going to let Jack get hit. That wasn’t happening.”
Duffy wasn’t happy with some of the run blocking (the Stateliners had just 52 yards rushing at the half, ending with 110) but overall he said the line did well enough.
“Overall, not bad,” he said. “There were a couple things to work on.”
4. P'burg a physical success
The Stateliner defensive front was even more dominant than its offensive counterpart, allowing just 77 rushing yards, just 35 in the first half.
DiGrande had been concerned that Warren Hills would have to match Phillipsburg’s physicality. The hosts won that battle.
“It’s just a matter of culture,” Cherry said. “We have it, they don’t.
5. Twin titans
Speaking of physical, for juniors who don’t weigh 400 pounds combined, Bobby (195 pounds) and Tommy (185) Coury certainly made their marks even outside the punt. Bobby played a hard, fierce middle linebacker and Tommy an intense, physical safety, and added a first-quarter interception that helped quell any Warren Hills hopes for an upset.
6. Perimeter path shut down
In the Stateliners’ game scrimmage, Elizabeth had enjoyed success running at the edges of the Stateliner defense.
With speedy backs such as Zach Hamilton and Sean Brooks, Warren Hills had hopes of doing the same. The two wound up with 42 yards combined and struggled to turn the corner at all.
“We just played good, solid defense,” Duffy said. “We ran to the ball well, had high energy and played some good third downs. We knew they’d try the perimeter and we did a lot better than last week. We stressed that in practice all week and we learned from our mistakes.”
7. Green golden
Warren Hills made a determined effort not to be beaten by Joe Green, the Stateliners’ dominant running back, and they succeeded, somewhat, holding him to 68 yards on 14 carries.
But Green scored the Stateliners’ first touchdown in an inspiring fashion, overcoming multiple Blue Streak tacklers and pushing his way into the end zone on one of the toughest, hardest 2-yard runs you’ll ever see.
“That was just Joe being Joe,” said Duffy with a big smile.
8. Aim at own foot, shoot
It must be said that the Blue Streaks contributed mightily as a source for the Stateliner win. Warren Hills’ spirit, intensity and aggression couldn’t be faulted, but their execution, unfortunately, could. Mistakes, especially penalties, and omissions cost the Blue Streaks dearly.
“Simple miscommunications, offside calls, multiple holding penalties, we just hurt ourselves with simple things,” DiGrande said. “It was the little things, always the little things, fundamentals., We have to clean those up.”
DiGrande said he liked what he saw from his defense in spots, and thought his team played better after the first half when P’burg led 27-0 at the break, but wouldn’t go much further down the positive path.
“I need to watch game film before I see if I liked anything,” DiGrande said. “Right now all I can see is the score and I don’t like that.”
9. Short-time celebration
Finally, Phillipsburg’s win springs from the team culture of never been satisfied with even solid, impressive rivalry wins.
“When we watch film it will be like we lost,” Cherry said. “I know I will be watching that way.”
Duffy would have liked to hear that.
“We weren’t bad, at this point of the season,” he said. “We’ll enjoy this tonight. But once we start watching film tomorrow, we flip a switch.”
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.