Phillipsburg’s 34-28 Mid-State 38 Delaware Division football win over visiting Bridgewater-Raritan Friday night felt a bit like riding a pogo stick.
Up and down, up and down. A typically large and enthusiastic Maloney Stadium crowd never really had to worry about the Stateliners losing control but never could really breathe easily, either -- too many ups and downs.
Phillipsburg wound up with more positives than negatives in a solid victory that moved them to 4-1 overall, 3-0 in the division, leaving them tied with Ridge (4-0, 3-0) atop the division. Bridgewater-Raritan falls to 1-4, 1-3.
“A win is a win,” Phillipsburg head coach Frank Duffy. “We work too hard not to enjoy each win, but we have a lot of things to work on.”
Here’s seven ups, and five downs, for the Stateliners.
One-Up: Green goes big
Phillipsburg senior tailback Joe Green was the leader of the band in more ways than one Friday.
He ran for 213 yards on 31 carries and three touchdowns on runs of 1, 6 and 6 yards.
Several of Green’s were highlight-film worthy, such as the sideline-hugging 28-yard burst that set up his final touchdown and several inside runs where he carried Panther defenders for extra yardage by sheer force of effort.
“We work on running the sideline every day,” Green said. “They make it difficult, but you can’t go (out of bounds).”
As a result, Green got to conduct the Phillipsburg band in its postgame ceremonies.
“It’s a blessing to be able to do that,” Green said.
Phillipsburg more or less turned the game over to Green and he delivered.
“Joe had to have the ball,” Duffy said.
Green’s final carry left the crowd roaring. Confronted by a Panther defender at the 1-yard line, Green deked him and flew into the end zone.
“That was how I could get by him,” said Green, who now has 638 yards on the season, 127.6 a game. “I saw his stick his arm out and I did not wanted to get tackled so I just jumped in.”
Two-up: Powerful push
The Stateliner all-senior offensive line might have enjoyed its best performance of the season. Center Chris Gurneak, tackles Jeff Vitale and Tony Rivera, and guards Ryan Fisher and Matt Cherry earned universal praise.
“They put us in position to win the game,” Green said.
Duffy said the line “got a great push” all night.
Green’s 45-yard burst came on a textbook block behind the left side as Rivera and Fisher opened up a hole wide enough to pilot the Queen Mary through.
One-down: Explosions again
Phillipsburg’s defense once again proved vulnerable to big plays.
Union exploited the Stateliners for “explosion” plays and so did Bridgewater. The Panthers scored on passes of 38 and 78 yards and might have had more without some secure Stateliner tackling.
Phillipsburg missed senior cornerback Nasir Ball, to be sure, but the trend is not good.
“Once again, we did a good job against the run (84 yards) but we have to limit the explosive plays.”
Three-up: 2-point thrills
Bad snaps plagued Phillipsburg on extra points all night. After missing the PAT after their second touchdown, the Stateliners decided to go for two when they scored in the third quarter to lead 19-7.
Phillipsburg got the two points, but in perhaps the most convoluted and unlikely manner possible -- and can thank junior holder Ben Ries for that.
The path to Ries’ heroics was winding.
On the first try, senior quarterback Jack Stagaard tossed a conversion pass to senior tight end Sterling Walker-Sutton -- but it was called back due to an illegal man downfield (hard to do, you might think, on a 2-point try).
So, back at the 7-yard line, the Stateliners lined up to kick an extra point, which they did -- but Bridgewater was offside.
Back at the 2, Phillipsburg still elected to kick, but it was another bad snap.
Ries, listed at 5-feet-10, 160 pounds, scooped up the ball and rolled to his left, and lofted a pass to senior Mark Zgoda, a linebacker playing special teams, in the end zone.
Complete. It was Ries’ first scoring pass and Zgoda’s first scoring catch.
Ries was still beaming afterwards.
“It felt great to make that play and it felt awesome to score for the team,” Ries said. “Coach always says every little moment, every little play makes a difference. He says we have to be the best on special teams; that’s a requirement. I have always wanted to make a big play and score and help the team. We practice that play every day.”
Still, practice is one thing, live action is another.
“Once I took off I got away from one guy trying to hit me and I knew I had to put the ball up and Mark would make the play, Ries said.”
And he did.
“They tell me I can’t play offense because of my hands,” said Zgoda, holding up his hands. “These are hands.”
Duffy rolled his eyes at that line from his tri-captain, but he loved the play.
“That’s a senior leadership thing from Mark,” he said.
He loved the execution, too.
“(Ries’s pass) was one of those plays you need in game, and you practice it but you may never use it,” he said. “It’s like the hands team, we practice that every Thursday, so when the situation comes up you have it.”
The team, meanwhile, has a new hero in Ries.
“I was happy to see that,” Green said. “I am more happy when my teammates score than when I do.”
Two-down: Pass rush problems
Phillipsburg struggled to get a pass rush with just four rushers, so Duffy cranked it up. “We decided to blitz; we wanted to get pressure on the quarterback, and there’s a cost-beneflut relationship with that,” Duffy said. “You send six guys, you know if you miss a tackle they’re going to get guys in space, and they did. We wanted to get pressure and we did, but we knew we’d give up some.”
Depending on blitzes for a pass rush could prove problematical down the line, but it may be a necessity.
Four-up: Poremba hands back
Junior Ray Poremba had struggled catching the ball in recent weeks but was back to his sure-handed self Friday, hauling in three passes for 49 yards.
Five-up: Bouncing back
Not only did the Stateliners bounce back from the Union loss, they responded well to every Panther attempt to get back in the game. Bridgewater would get within a score, Phillipsburg would respond.
“That all has to do with our motto, DIG,” Green said. “We dig the whole game. We dig out of adversity.”
Four-down: Flag flurry
The Stateliners were flagged six times for 55 yards, often at the worst time possible.
“The penalties have to be cleaned up,” Duffy said.
Six-up: Making plays while blitzing
Phillipsburg did take risks when blitzing but often made them pay off.
For example, late in the third quarter, Phillipsburg had just gone three-and-out on offense leading 21-14. The Panthers, on a potential game-tying possession, faced 3rd-and-9 at their 30. Dangerous running back Anthony Goffe caught a little crossing pass and might have run for a long gain but was decked by Zgoda, the only Stateliner with a chance, for no gain.
Bridgewater punted and Phillipsburg scored on its next drive to lead 28-14.
“We play every play on defense like it’s 0-0,” Zgoda said.
Five-down: Special problems
Phillipsburg’s usually solid special teams had some issues: a muffed punt, bad snaps on kicks, and penalties calling back returns. It wasn’t a disaster, but it could have been a lot better.
Phillipsburg senior defensive lineman Khyree Wallace moves in on Bridgewater-Raritan's
Duffy was relieved to get past Bridgewater-Raritan. The Panthers may be 1-4, but their quartet of losses have come against Ridge (4-0), Hillsborough (3-2), Elizabeth (3-1) and P’burg by a combined 27 points.
“They are a good team, they’re going to be OK,” Duffy said. “They’re like Hunterdon Central -- we’re always going to get their best shot.”
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.