Matt Quetel had just two words to say when he left with an ankle sprain late in the first quarter and with his Phillipsburg team trailing Ridge by a touchdown:
Quetel’s request was honored, and the junior running back returned 13 plays later and with the drive that began with his 6-yard run still in progress.
Once Quetel was back up, he almost never left his nimble feet again - oblivious to his aching ankle, the bone-jarring tackles administered by Ridge, and also at times the sacred laws of gravity.
Quetel ended that mammoth 78-yard drive drive with a game-tying 6-yard run, and he scored his fourth of the night on a game-winning 30-yarder off left tackle in the second overtime to rally Phillipsburg to a 34-28 upset over No. 16 Ridge Friday night in a Mid-State 38-Delaware Division clash at Maloney Stadium in Phillipsburg.
“I came such a long way,” said Quetel, who finished with 154 yards on 34 attempts. “I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a little kid. I wasn’t going to let that stop me from from doing what I was supposed to be doing.”
Ridge (2-1) forced the overtime. 21-21, when Jake Hoffman scored on a 6-yard counter run with 7:12 to go in the fourth quarter, and the Phillipsburg (4-0) missed a 32-yard field goal attempt with 54 seconds remaining in regulation.
Each team scored in the first overtime, and then the stage was set for Quetel after Ridge’s drive stalled at the 24-yard line. For the uninitiated, overtime begins with the ball at the 25 going in.
That second OT for Ridge was Quetel, linemen Daniel Pantuso, Ethan Imboden, William Haussman, Devin Reppert, Matthew Barna, and just about any other Stateliner player who had an opportunity to throw a shoulder out for Quetel. He covered all 25 yards with eight carries, the last on second-and-goal.
“He gave us a real spark when he came back,” said Phillipsburg head coach Frank Duffy. “He’s a unique player.”
Quetel demonstrated that quality several times, like when he returned the third-quarter kickoff 78 yards down the right sideline to give Phillipsburg a 21-7 lead, or when he strained forward for two yards against a wall of Ridge defenders to pick up a first down at the six on fourth-and-one from the eight. His next run was his first TD of the night.
But Quetel’s most unique carry of all came on the next possession following a fumble recovery by teammate Isaiah Craighead at the Phillipsburg 20-yard line. Quetel rocketed up the middle, but then was almost assuredly stopped on a hard hit at the 14. Quetel rolled off the defender, stiff-armed the earth to restore his balance and then scooted the rest of the way to put the Liners in front, 13-7, with 1:56 to play in the opening half.
“This meant everything and I leave everything out there on the field,” Quetel said. “So do all these other guys.”
Quetel specifically meant his fellow Stateliners, but would have been happy to include Ridge in on that compliment. Just as Quetel did all that was within his powers to remain upright, Ridge did exactly the same in its pursuit to knock him to the floor and also generate some effective offense of its own behind senior quarterback Brendan Bell.
“I could not be prouder if we won,” said Ridge head coach Bill Tracy. "I was a hard game, a championship-level game; maybe even worthy of a state final.
“We’re going to be fine. We’re going to build on this,” he said. “I think we’ll be a tough out, I really do.”
Duffy seemed prepared to share an identical message of warm congratulations with his players had Ridge found a way to eke out a victory.
“In a game like this it can go either way. We were just fortunate to be on the right side,” he said. “It could easily have gone the other way. Easily.”
Except for the fact that there was nothing that came easy in this one, not even after Quetel’s kickoff return for a two-touchdown lead. In each of the first three games, Phillipsburg owned the second half by a cumulative score off 44-7 for wins over Warren Hills, Franklin and Hunterdon Central.
“Ridge has such a good offense, it’s such a good team and they’re so well-coached,” Duffy said. "It’s one of the bigger challenges I’ve ever had as a coach.
“We knew we had to embrace the dogfight. We need this,” he said. “Our ultimate goal is across the river (Thanksgiving vs. archrival Easton, Pa.). We’ve got to embrace the dogfight and win the close games. Now, two overtimes? No one envisioned that.”
Following Quetel’s kick return, Bell drove his Ridge team 65 yards in 13 plays before he sneaked in from the one to pull to within 21-14 with 6:05 left in the third quarter. Bell opened that drive with a 17-yard pass to senior Jack Perry, who gave Ridge the initial lead on the second play of the game. Bell found him on a short flare route on the left wing, and Perry quickly shifted into high gear for a 76-yard scoring play.
Ridge missed a choice opportunity when Christian Sweeney’s fumble recovery gave the Red Devils possession at the Phillipsburg 39 just 15 seconds after Perry’s TD. Twins Bobby and Tommy Coury, Craighead, Reppert and Pantuso all had big plays in the drive that ended on fourth-and-goal from the two.
But Ridge’s defense - anchored by Bell, Perry, Hoffman, Jack Prentiss and Andrew Taddeo - forced a punt after three plays, and the offense rewarded the stance with a nine-play, 29-yard move capped by Hoffman’s 6-yard run.
“We knew they were going to be great coming in,” Bobby Coury said. “The Wing-T is a hard offense to stop. But we prepared very well. We knew we just had to trust the process, trust the hard work. It paid off.”
Coury played a pivotal role for the Stateliner squad that defeated Ridge, 21-7, last year and went on to claim the North 2, Group 4 championship before a fall to Wayne Hills in the North 4 bowl game. Ridge closed at 8-2.
Mike Kinney may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter @MikeKinneyHS.