Ben Ries recognized the challenge he faced coming into the Phillipsburg football season.
“I had some big shoes to fill,” the Stateliner senior said.
That Ries did, succeeding three-year starter Jack Stagaard who led P’burg to a pair of North 2 Section 4 championships in 2017 and 2018.
Ries is stepping into those size-12 shoes nicely and is figuring out what it takes to be Phillipsburg’s varsity quarterback. The 4-0 Stateliners, ranked No. 4 in the region by lehighvalleylive, look to stay unbeaten when they travel to Bridgewater-Raritan (2-2) Friday night (7) for a Mid-State 38 Delaware Division game.
“You start to understand when you get overexcited, getting nervous, that’s when you start making mistakes,” Ries said. “If you stay calm, understand what the situation is, stay with what you know, you’ll be OK.”
So far Ries has been OK and more. In Phillipsburg’s offense, which relies heavily on the ground game led by junior tailback Matt Quetel (95 carries, 573 yards, 11 TDs), passing is a smaller but necessary aspect.
Ries has been more than efficient. He has completed 22 of 38 passes for 281 yards, 6 touchdowns and just two interceptions. And Ries has been clutch.
“Ben has thrown for some critical third and fourth conversions,” Phillipsburg head coach Frank Duffy said.
Perhaps Ries’ biggest pass of the season, though, went for 2 points, not 6.
“Ben had a 2-point conversion pass against Ridge that was huge,” Duffy said.
Given that the Stateliners won 34-28 in double-overtime, they need every point they could get to force the overtime. Ries said 2-point plays are standard practice material for P’burg.
“Thursdays we work on situational football, and we always work on 2-point plays,” he said. “We always work on a certain play to run each week, to make sure everything works, and that play against Ridge was a new play (a pass to senior running back Bobby Coury) for that week. I am glad the way it worked out.”
Ries said he’s gotten more and more comfortable as the signal-caller as the season has advanced.
“I started to feel confident in the Franklin game (where he threw for 3 touchdowns on 7-for-11 passing for 99 yards) that I had what it takes to fill the quarterback spot,” he said. “I feeling more confident in reading defenses and I am feeling better about trusting myself to get the ball into tight windows and stepping up in the pocket and throwing the ball.”
Still, Ries knows he can improve.,
“I have to be more consistent,’ he said. “I have made some poor decisions, and made some bad reads. I had two (interceptions) against Hunterdon Central and I know I can’t do that against good teams in big games like that game Thanksgiving morning (Easton).”
Of course, with Quetel around, Ries doesn’t have to dazzle on every play.
“Matt’s vision of the field and the way he runs with that hard-nosed mentality is why he’s so effective,” Ries said. “And he has great body control and shiftiness. He makes his cuts really quickly.”
Ries said his offensive line, which was all virtually lacking in experience to start the season, has really come along.
“They’re learning their roles and getting more familiar with each other and trusting each other,” he said. “They are learning they can rely on the guys next to them, and that is making their job way easier. Those guys are the key to our success.”
And so is the 12th man.
“When we run on the field at Maloney the energy we feel is unreal,” he said. “It’s like nothing else. We draw our energy from them.”
Add it all up -- experience, knowledge, energy -- and it’s clear Ben Ries is filling those big shoes quite well.
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.