The Phillipsburg football team had a punt blocked and lost two fumbles in the first half against Wayne Valley in an NJSIAA North 2 Group 4 semifinal on Friday night at Maloney Stadium.
The Stateliners also had a goal line stand and survived a coach’s challenge on a potential safety in a first half that the Indians spent much of the time in Phillipsburg territory.
But the home team managed to keep the game scoreless in the first half.
Unfortunately for top-seeded Phillipsburg, it couldn’t fight off fifth-seeded Wayne Valley the whole night as the visitors scored late in the third quarter and went on to post a 7-0 victory over the Stateliners.
Senior quarterback Thomas Moran scored the game’s only touchdown with a 1-yard run with 2:44 remaining in the third quarter.
“Just continue to harp on the little things,” Phillipsburg coach Frank Duffy said. “We did have those costly mistakes and against a good football team, they’re going to hurt you. Even with those mistakes, we were still in the game to the very end. I’m confident we’ll be able to bounce back.”
Wayne Valley used a nine-play drive to punch in the score by Moran. The quarterback had a 29-yard pass to Jake DeLucciae and had a 15-yard run on the scoring drive.
Phillipsburg senior Ben Ries connected with fellow senior Ray Poremba with a 27-yard pass in the fourth quarter as the Stateliners tried to spark their offense.
The home team got another first down on a fourth-down run by junior Matt Quetel with 7:05 left in the fourth quarter. The play was originally ruled a fumble recovered by Wayne Valley, but the coach’s challenge by Phillipsburg paid off and the runner was ruled down.
However, the Stateliners’ drive was soon halted as Wayne Valley forced a 4th-and-18 for Phillipsburg.
Wayne Valley received the Phillipsburg punt and ran the 4:40 remaining off the clock. The Indians picked up three first downs and secured the shutout victory.
“I thought both defenses on both sides of the ball played tough,” Duffy said. “I’m just real excited about our defense moving forward going into our last game of the year against Easton. There’s a lot of positives we can take from this. Unfortunately, we’re not happy with the outcome of the game. But we got to learn from our mistakes and take the positives and continue to strengthen on our positives that we had.”
Phillipsburg stopped Wayne Valley on a fourth-and-two at the Stateliners’ 5-yard line to keep the game scoreless with 8:29 left in the second quarter.
The Stateliners held Moran to 60 passing yards, but the quarterback also ran for 85 yards on the night.
Junior John Testa rushed for 41 yards for Wayne Valley, which improved to 9-2 on the season and will play Old Tappan next week for the sectional championship.
Phillipsburg fumbled five times in the game, losing two, and Wayne Valley didn’t turn the ball over.
Quetel rushed for 67 yards on 16 carries before exiting the game with an injury late in the fourth quarter.
Ries completed 5 of 11 passes for 59 yards for the Stateliners, who fell to 8-2 on the season.
Phillipsburg now puts the sectional playoffs in the rearview and places all of its attention on the rivalry showdown against Easton on Thanksgiving Day.
“It’s the most important game of the year. It always has been. It always will,” Duffy said of the Turkey Day clash. “State sectional championships are nice, but ultimately your No. 1 goal is to beat Easton."
Josh Folck may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JoshFolck. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.