Chris Gurneak put thoughts into action last Friday night.
And because he did, the Phillipsburg senior center enjoyed a night he will never forget.
“We talk about our DIG philosophy but you can’t just talk about it, you have to apply it,” said Gurneak this week as the Stateliners prepare for a Mid-State 38 crossover football game with Union Friday (7 p.m.) at Maloney Stadium.
Gurneak dug deep in the second half after suffering a painful rolled-ankle injury just before halftime at Hunterdon Central and helped lead the Stateliners to a rousing 28-14 victory over the Red Devils.
“The pain was terrible, it was like nothing else I ever felt before,” Gurneak said. “A player I was blocking on a pass play just fell on me and I inverted my ankle. I thought I had broken (the ankle) and there was no way I’d be able to finish the game. But I really wanted to out there with my brothers.”
Gurneak appeared in a bad way from the press box as he painfully made his way off of the field.
It did not look any better up close.
“He didn’t look well,” Phillipsburg head coach Frank Duffy said. “He was really hobbling.”
Gurneak was taped up and was cleared by the Stateliner medical staff for second-half duty.
“I kept telling myself I could play through, and that was I fine,” he said.
Duffy was not so sure.
“He had the OK to play but the way he was walking, I almost pulled him,” Duffy said. “I came very close to pulling him because I wasn’t sure he could play at a serviceable level. He assured me he could go, and he pleaded with me to let him play. I told him I’d start him but if he was hurting the team I’d have to take him out.”
Instead, quite the opposite. After a second half dominated by the Stateliner offensive line both in opening holes for senior running back Joe Green (203 yards) and protecting senior quarterback Jack Stagaard (no sacks), Duffy didn’t pull Gurneak out -- he singled him out.
In an ecstatic post-game huddle the P’burg head coach pulled Gurneak up to his side and saluted his effort. That is a very rare gesture for Duffy, or indeed any head coach.
“I am really, really proud of the way Chris fought through the injury and played well at a position that’s maybe overlooked, a very critical position,” said Duffy, noting that center is the only position on the field that touches the ball on every snap from scrimmage. “I am sure it was a lot of adrenalin and I am sure he woke up sore Saturday. What Chris did was pretty typical of whaty we did the whole game -- get knocked down, brushing it off and then finish.” Gurneak said Duffy’s postgame recognition was overwhelming.
“It was probably the most special moment I have ever had playing football,” he said. “It was a really special moment for me. I am proud of myself for the way I was able to finish and help the team win.”
Duffy was not surprised, perhaps, by Gurneak’s gritty night.
“Chris is a hard-nosed kid, and football is extremely important to him,” Duffy said. “He does everything we ask of him. He’s a tough kid.”
After the second half at Hunterdon Central, there will never be any doubt that Chris Gurneak is one tough kid ever again.
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.