Every Phillipsburg football player will tell you any occasion to play at Maloney Stadium is to be treasured.
But that’s especially so on Senior Night, when there’s an extra sizzle in the stands and on the sidelines, as band and cheerleader seniors are honored as well.
And when that sizzle gets turned a rousing romp like Friday night’s 42-14 Mid-State 38 cross rout of Westfield, there’s joy all around
How much joy?
Just ask a Stateliner senior what winning on Senior Night means.
“It’s amazing,” said senior defensive end Joseph Kowalczyk, who played a major role in holding the Blue Devils (2-4) to 46 yards rushing and just 183 total on the night. “It’s the best feeling ever in my entire life.”
Here’s nine lifetime memories made Friday night by the Stateliners.
1. The perfect start
Sterling Walker-Sutton got the festivities off to a flying start when he returned the opening kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown.
“I think I surprised myself on that play,” Walker-Sutton said with a laugh.
But maybe it was no surprise at all.
“We knew they liked to kickoff deep left, so we lined up that way,” Walker-Sutton said. “I got two beautiful pancake blocks from the first two blockers, Matt Quetel and Isaiah Craighead, and slid right up the crease.”
In other words, the play happened because Phillipsburg knew where the ball was going. Credit special teams coach Rich Guman with some sharp preparation.
“We count special teams the same as offense or defense,” Walker-Sutton said. “We want to be the best in special teams.”
2. Senior sack
Westfield’s opening drive went nowhere thanks in large part to a third-down sack by senior defensive end Khyree Wallace, who has become Phillipsburg’s most consistent pass rusher.
3. Nose for six
Stateliner senior tailback Joe Green, drawing enormous amounts of attention from the Blue Devil defense, battled and fought and scrapped his way to 64 hard-earned yards on the night. But even on nights when he’s often bottled up, Green usually finds the end zone, as he did on Phillipsburg’s first drive when he turned the corner and just outraced Blue Devil defenders for a 15-yard TD.
Some backs find yards inside the red zone harder to gain; Green’s grit and desire and leg strength combine to make them easier for him. If he’s near the end zone, he scores, as Green did twice Friday.
4. Key stop
Westfield’s next drive started with a nine-yard run to its own 40.
It didn’t end well.
2nd-and-1 handoff stuffed for nothing by, well, a lot of Stateliners.
3rd-and-1, same play, same result as P’burg’s powerhouse middle linebackers -- senior Mark Zgoda and junior Bobby Coury charged through gaps and smacked Tim Alligero for no gain.
A punt followed and Phillipsburg scored on that ensuing possession.
Phillipsburg head coach Frank Duffy identified the defensive stand as a significant moment.
5. Walker-Sutton again
The third Stateliner possession started at its 19 and ended in the Blue Devil end zone for a 21-0 P’burg lead with there still being 2:32 left in the first quarter.
Walker-Sutton, a tight end on offense, made the big plays again, grabbing a 37-yard pass down the sideline from senior quarterback Jack Stagaard (10-for-13, 267 yards, 3 TDs and 0 interceptions) to the Westfield 24; two plays later Walker-Sutton separated from the defense and hauled in a 14-yard TD pass.
“Sterling runs phenomenal patterns,” Duffy said.
6. Stagaard has answer
Westfield, helped by a penalty on Phillipsburg (a recurring theme; nine flags were thrown on the hosts for 100 yards) made it 21-7 with 4:34 to play in the half -- but any hopes the Blue Devils had of halftime momentum disappeared when Phillipsburg engineered a 57-yard TD drive ending in a 3-yard Green run and a 28-7 lead.
Actually, Stagaard engineered it with two big pass plays, a 30-yard strike to junior wide receiver Tommy Coury to get P’burg out from behind the chains at its own 41, and then a 11-yard pass to Bobby Coury, an H-back on offense, to enter the red zone.
7. A needed stuff
Westfield, again helped by 35 yards in P’burg penalties, cut the lead to 28-14 on its first possession of the second half. On the Blue Devils’ second, they benefited from two more personal fouls on the Stateliners and reached the Stateliner 26; a touchdown there and who knows?
No worries on Senior Night.
First down saw Walker-Sutton, who was often brilliant at cornerback, break up a pass.
Second down saw Zgoda drop Westfield QB Hank Shapiro for a four-yard loss.
Third down, incomplete, good pass rush from Kowalczyk and Wallace.
Fourth down, also incomplete.
8. Walker-Sutton once more
And then it was game-over, more or less, when, on the first Stateliner play after the turnover on downs, Stagaard hit a streaking Walker-Sutton down the seam for 70 untouched yards for a score and a 35-14 lead.
Westfield had double coverage on Walker-Sutton. Didn’t matter.
And the reason it didn’t was more of that Phillipsburg preparation.
“We had that play drawn up at halftime,” Walker-Sutton said. “And we had it in mind once we got the ball back.”
Stagaard led Walker-Sutton perfectly and the in-stride catch meant nobody was catching Walker-Sutton, except maybe history.
“I think this was my best game ever,” he said.
Stagaard said it was pitch-and-catch.
“I made the play-action fake, just waited for Sterling to make his break and his route and the pass protection was perfect,” Stagaard said. “It went the way we drew it up.”
9. The perfect ending
Walker-Sutton’s big catch more or less clinched the win for the 6-1 Stateliners, but fans who left early missed what was, perhaps, the play of the season.
On 3rd-and-10 from the Westfield 44 with eight minutes left to play, Stagaard hung in the pocket, couldn’t find a receiver, and rolled right to keep the play alive, shaking off Blue Devil rushers en route.
“Jack does such a great job of keeping his eyes downfield and keep the play alive rather than just break off and run,” Duffy said.
Stagaard said it was a bit of improvisation.
“The play was originally to Sterling, but he got jammed up,” Stagaard said. “So I leaked out (to the right) and I had a clear eye to see Bobby Coury in the middle. The pass felt good the minute it left my hand.
What Stagaard did was set, plant and fire the football equivalent of a nickel changeup back across the field, with enough power to get deep downfield and enough arc for Coury to run underneath it in perfect stride for a touchdown that brought a special tingle to the fans, who audibly gasped in delight.
They had a reason to.
“That was beautiful,” Walker-Sutton said. “That was incredible.”
So was Senior Night at Maloney Stadium for the Stateliners.
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.