Phillipsburg football passed a key test Friday night.
The adversity challenge.
For the first time this season, the Stateliners faced some really difficult situations against a high-quality opponent in Ridge, a touch-and-go game that could have easily gone against them. The Red Devils opened the scoring, and later rallied from a 14-point deficit to force overtime. Phillipsburg saw a game-winning field goal go wide right.
It was a tough examination of what P’burg had inside -- a combination of heart, mental toughness, physical execution, moxie and ability to come up big in the clutch If the Stateliners had all that, they’d win. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t, with all the consequences for the remainder of the season ahead that would entail.
Looking at the resuilt, a 34-28 double-overtime win over previously unbeaten Ridge, a team that P’burg head coach Frank Duffy thinks could “run the table” in Group 5, even the toughest grader would have to give the Stateliners an ‘A’.
Now at 4-0 (3-0 division) heading into Friday night’s (7) Mid-State 38 Delaware Division clash at Bridgewater-Raritan (2-2, 2-1 division), Phillipsburg owns the confidence that comes from meeting adversity heads-on and defeating it.
“I think our ability to deal with adversity comes from a lot of things,” Duffy said. “I think some of it comes from being Stateliners and growing up with that kind of mentality. Working from behind, dealing with adversity, is something we work on every single day as a coaching staff. The players buy into what we’re telling them. We have great leadership on the field from the players. I think it is a combination of all of those things.”
So when bad things happen -- like the Stateliners giving up a 21-7 lead in the second half, which is not a frequent occurence at Maloney Stadium -- there’s no need for desperate measures.
“There really was no rah-rah speech,” Duffy said. “We just focused on the task at hand, there was no message from the coaches. Before the game we had talked about embracing the dogfight, and, well, here we go, we’re in it, I know it was stressful, but it was great to see the kids rise to the occasion like that.”
The same mentality applied after P’burg senior placekicker Michael Gomez’s field goal that would have won the game in regulation went wide right. It could have been a heartbreaking moment for Gomez, and for his teammates, but it was not.
“I’d make the same call again facing that situation,” Duffy said. “It was 4th-and-4, not 4th-and-1, and that’s a huge difference (when considering to kick or go for it). It was well within Michael’s range. I told him not to worry about it at the time; he knows we believe him. I have never been in that situation; he wanted nothing more than to make that. He’s just a high school kid; sometimes we forget that. Michael understands the situation.”
Once overtime came, Phillipsburg was ready.
“Overtime is just a situation you practice, like you practice being backed up at the 1,” Duffy said. “Those are situations that you have an idea for, a variety of plays you can use, plays that have been working. I don’t think you change too much what you do to that got you there. I think we can outsmart ourselves in that situation sometimes.”
Duffy didn’t. He gave the ball to junior running back Matt Quetel (35 carries, 164 yards, 3 TDs) and Quetel and the line took care of business in the classic straight-ahead fashion.,
“I was very pleased with our offensive line,” Duffy said. “They did an outstanding job staying on their blocks. They are really meshing well as a unit,”
Meanwhile on defense in the overtime Duffy deployed his 12th man.
“We lost the toss in overtime which meant I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to go on offense or defense first, but I could decide what end of the field I wanted to use, and I wanted to play in front of our student section,” he said. “I don’t think a lot of high school teams are used to facing that kind of section and it’s a big difference than playing at the (open) end of our stadium. It’s something really different, and the crowd pumps us full of energy in a way you don’t see at other places, maybe only at Cottingham Stadium.”
The result was an intensely satisfying triumph.
“Games like this are what makes football enjoyable, pulling out a win against a good team, well-coached, with a good scheme and good athletes,” Duffy said.
And it was a win that will benefit Phillipsburg down the road.
“We have gained an understanding of what being in a tight game is all about,” Duffy said. “The biggest games of our season are going to be tight games so it’s good we have gained that understanding early. We had to come back from being down 7-0 and playing from behind is different from playing from ahead. It was good to see we had the right mentality, and we learned to play four quarters and beat a good football team. In games like this, you learn about players, when they’re put in stressful situations. I knew we had a tough football team and now we have the confidence going forward that we can win games like this."
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.