Until you apply a motto under the Friday night lights, it’s really just a bunch of words.
Phillipsburg High School’s football team validated its approach against Ridge.
The Stateliners, ranked No. 4 by lehighvalleylive, defeated the Red Devils 34-28 in double overtime during a Mid-State 38 Delaware Division clash at Maloney Stadium.
In the postgame huddle, Phillipsburg’s slogan “DIG” was echoed by players and coaches. DIG stands for “discipline,” “ignore the noise” and “grit.”
“It was about just staying with this: D-I-G,” said junior lineman Matthew Barna, showing off the emblazoned shovel he was holding. “... You just have to punch them in the mouth every play and keep going.”
Friday’s victory was a team effort, but junior tailback Matthew Quetel probably dug a little bit deeper than most, after leaving the game with an injury in the second quarter and then returning on the same drive.
Quetel won the contest for the Stateliners with a 3-yard touchdown during the second portion of the second overtime period. He gained all 25 of Phillipsburg’s yards during the possession, carrying the ball eight consecutive times.
“I wanted whatever was best for the team,” Quetel said. “Whatever we could do to score, I wanted. I wanted to win.”
The tailback carried the ball 35 times for 164 yards and three touchdowns, despite battling a banged-up ankle.
“I've been dreaming about this since I was a little kid and I wasn't going to let some little injury dictate whether or not I was going to play,” he said. “I was going to play.”
“What a gritty effort, with his ankle, to come back,” Stateliners coach Frank Duffy said. “That was really a microcosm of the whole game – just the way he responded.”
Crossing the goal line for a walk-off touchdown made the struggle worthwhile for the running back.
“It felt good,” Quetel said. “I loved it.”
“I'm just so proud of these guys. They were so resilient. We were just talking about our DIG culture and they really lived it tonight,” Duffy said. “All the hard work that we've been doing since January – I told those guys down on the goal line: that was the weight room, working with Coach (Craig) Merrick and MADE Strength. That's what it came down to. That's why you lift all those weights and work your tail off, to play in these types of games.”
And it was a thrilling game.
Phillipsburg (4-0 overall, 3-0 division) scored in the first OT period when senior quarterback Ben Ries surged up the middle for an 8-yard TD. Ridge (2-1, 2-1) answered immediately with a 25-yard touchdown from Brendan Bell to Jack Perry on the Red Devils’ first play in overtime.
The Stateliners defense, however, held firm when the Ridge offense started the second extra period. The Red Devils were limited to a 1-yard rush, a run for no gain and two incomplete passes.
“We just always play together,” Barna said. “We got together in the huddle and we told each other that we're not going to lose this game. We had to keep fighting and had to win the battle in the trenches.”
P’burg missed a 32-yard field goal with 51 seconds left in regulation.
“We're a tough group, man,” Quetel said. “It's all about DIG. If we keep digging, we'll be good.”
A methodical drive and quick strikes
Ridge raced ahead of P’burg at the opening of the game. Bell hit Perry for a 76-yard touchdown on the second play from scrimmage to put the visitors ahead 7-0 almost instantly.
Bell, a senior, was 9-for-18 with 185 yards and two touchdowns. Perry, another senior, caught five passes for 159 yards and two scores for the Red Devils.
“That's a very good football team,” Duffy said of Ridge. “I have so much respect for Coach (Bill) Tracy and what he does over there. That game could have gone either way.”
P’burg leveled the score thanks to a 9-minute, 29-second drive that went 78 yards in 16 plays. Quetel, who limped off the field earlier in the series, scored on a 6-yard run and Michael Gomez’s PAT knotted it at 7-7 with 2:51 remaining in the second quarter.
Ridge fumbled on the second play of the ensuing possession and the Stateliners’ Isaiah Craighead recovered at the visitors’ 20-yard line.
Quetel surged for a 20-yard touchdown on the next play, breaking what seemed like a sure tackle at the 12, to put his team ahead 13-7 with 1:56 to go before halftime.
The ‘Liners appeared to have the game well in hand when Quetel started off the second half with an 89-yard return for a TD down the home sideline.
“Honestly, as soon as I grabbed the ball, I knew where to hit the hole, but I saw Robbie Martin and the (number) 7 on his back, and I knew I was getting a ride and I was going,” Quetel said.
A Ridge rally
Ridge answered Quetel’s scoring kickoff return with a 69-yard, 13-play drive, which culminated on a 1-yard TD sneak by Bell.
Later, a short punt gave the Red Devils possession at the Phillipsburg 29-yard line with 11:40 left in regulation.
Eight consecutive runs and two fourth-down conversions got Ridge in the end zone and tied the score. Senior Jake Hoffman rushed for a 6-yard TD, tying things at 21-21 after the PAT with 7:12 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Hoffman’s rush was one of the many misdirection plays the Red Devils used in their Wing-T offense.
“We actually had a (defensive) practice one day without a football just to get the reads down, because there's so much misdirection,” Duffy said. “It really makes you play vanilla defense ... I don't know if we blitzed at all.”
Turning the page
Up next, Phillipsburg will travel to Bridgewater (2-2).
“We’re going to enjoy this for about 12 hours and then we’ve got Bridgewater next week,” Barna said. “It’s all about moving on.”
Kyle Craig may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @KyleCraigSports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.