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P-Burg sets tone early against Hunterdon Central

It didn’t take long to get a read on what kind of night it was going be at Phillipsburg’s Maloney Stadium on Friday.

It took just 11 seconds in fact.

Eleven seconds for the Stateliners football team to assert dominance over visiting Hunterdon Central.

A fumbled opening kickoff gave P’burg the ball on the Central 23 before quarterback Ben Ries found Tommy Coury down the middle of the field for a 23-yard touchdown on the game’s first play from scrimmage.

It was all Stateliners moving forward as they cruised to a 37-14 win over the Red Devils in a Mid-State 38 Delaware Division game played in front of a standing-room-only crowd at the newly-renovated Bellis Field at Maloney Stadium.

“That was a great feeling,” junior running back Matt Quetel said. “It was big seeing that. Recovering the opening kickoff and then scoring a touchdown on the first play. It was amazing.”

Fans lined the perimeter outside the fences as Phillipsburg dominated the Red Devils on their new turf surface.

Quetel ran wild, rushing for 212 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries.

Ries threw for 72 yards and touchdown and the Stateliners defense bottled up the Red Devils offense, which meant slowing standout running back Will Ezema.

“I’m really proud of our guys,” P’burg coach Frank Duffy said. “We faced some adversity with some turnovers and our guys responded. We were able to take advantage of some of their mistakes and our defense had another solid game.”

P’burg (3-0 overall, 2-0 division) played anything but a clean game themselves, turning the ball over three times. Ries threw a pair of interceptions and the offense put the ball on the ground four times, and was lucky to lose just one.

Quetel fumbled the ball away a yard shy of the goal line on a nifty run on second-and-11 from the 12.

“That’s unacceptable,” Quetel said. “We practice ball security every day in practice. There’s no excuse for that.”

The defense, however, turned a fumble into points when they swarmed Ezema in the end zone for a safety, making it 23-7 P’burg.

Ries’ first interception of the season ultimately resulted in a 15-yard Ezema TD run that knotted the game at 7 midway through the opening quarter.

That’s when Quetel took over.

Quetel carried nine times on the ‘Liners 14-play, 70-yard march that ended with his first TD of the game – a 2-yarder with 8:20 left in the first.

Isaiah Craighead recovered the ensuing kickoff and Quetel scored from 5 yards out four plays later, making it 21-7 P’burg midway through the opening period.

“We take pride in getting turnovers and we did a great job of that tonight,” said Craighead, who spearheaded the task of slowing Ezema.

Ezema finished with 97 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, the bulk of which came in the final quarter after Duffy emptied his bench.

The tale of the game, however, was the dominant play the ‘Liners got up front.

Guards Will Haussman and Devin Reppert, tackles Ethan Imboden and Dan Pantuso, center Matt Barna and tight end Ray Poremba opened huge holes for Quetel and the other running backs all night, who, as a unit, pulled off 16 runs of more than 5 yards.

“Those guys do such a great job,” Duffy said. They’ve been working so hard in the offseason. They did an outstanding job tonight. Just a tough, hard-nosed group.”

Phillipsburg has now won seven straight over Central in the series, dating back to a 27-7 road loss October 12, 2012.

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