Ryan Mottley and his Phillipsburg football teammates stand ready for the upcoming hills to climb.
And they’re quite steep.
The 5-1 Stateliners' three closing games, starting with a visit from Ridge (5-1) Friday night (7) and then continuing with a trip to unbeaten Somerville Nov. 20 and the classic season-ender against archrival Easton on Thanksgiving morning, represent the kind of challenge any football players, especially those in garnet and gray, relish.
“It’s awesome to have games like this to play,” said Mottley, a 6-foot, 190-pound senior who starts at right guard and defensive end. “The coaches are always getting us to peak at the end of the season, and Ridge and Somerville will set us up for Thanksgiving.”
While there are no NJSIAA playoffs this fall thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, games against teams like the Red Devils (who wear green) and Pioneers are certainly playoff-caliber contests that will test Phillipsburg as much as any sectionals would, if not more.
So it’s superb timing that the Stateliners may well have played their best game of the season in Saturday’s 49-0 destruction of Bridgewater-Raritan.'
Head coach Frank Duffy certainly thought so.
“We didn’t leave any points on the board for the first time this season, and we finished a drive in a two-minute situation,” he said.
“I think we all played pretty well,” Mottley said. “We’ve been trying to put all four quarters together to have a good game, and we did that finally. We knew we were the better team, and we had to make sure we didn’t play to their level. We played our game for the whole game. I think we hgave been practicing well together as team and the coaches have had really good game plans that set us up well.”
This week’s game plan will offer Phillipsburg another major challenge. Ridge’s Wing-T, with its dizzying array of counters, misdirection and multiple ball carriers, offers an unique challenge on the Stateliner slate.
“We broke off practice so our scout team could run some of the Wing-T plays well for our defense,” said Duffy, who has been consulting with Newton coach and Wing-T guru Matt Parzero (the two worked together at North Warren) on the offense’s secrets. “It’s almost as hard to prepare your scout team with the Wing-T as it is to prepare your defense for it.”
Mottley, at the weak side defensive end, will apply a traditional P’burg formula to the Red Devils.
“We want to play violent and aggressive.” he said. “I think we’re playing with urgency as a team. We want to get our hands on the offensive linemen and drive them back and make penetration, and allow our linebackers and cornerbacks and safeties to make plays.”
Duffy didn’t hesitate when asked what was the key to stopping the Wing-T.
“Eye discipline -- that is 100 percent the most important thing,” he said. “Stand where you should, read the keys, make the plays. But that’s easier said than done. All it takes is one play.”
Mottley doesn’t intend to give Ridge that one play.
“(The defensive linemen) are the big disruptors; we read our keys, trust the game plan, being able to break into the play,” he said. “We may not be making all the tackles, but it’s all about keeping the zero on the scoreboard.”
Mottley, a Stewartsville resident, has always played defensive end, but his odyssey on offense has seen him bounce back and forth between being eligible or not, so to speak.
“He was an h-back and a tight end when we moved him to the line in the middle of last season,”
Duffy said. “Then this summer, when we started, we teased him with an eligible number and then moved him back to guard. He’s really tough. Ryan has no problem with (changing positions), which shows you what kind of player he is.”
So Mottlety went from 86 to 53 to 86 back to 53 - his uniform numbers.
“Coaches asked me to switch back to guard after the Delbarton scrimmage (this season),” Mottley said. “I was happy to switch, to be able to offer the team more as a guard. I was happy to help the team, wherever they needed me.”But, Mottley will admit, there’s a tiny bit of him that liked contact with the football.
“Every once in a while, I miss (catching and running with the ball),” he said. “But I put the team first.”
Mottley’s move to guard has helped the Stateliners stabilize and succeed up front.
“It takes time for the offensive line to gel as a unit,” Duffy said. “They’ve gotten better, their technique has gotten better. (Offensive line) coach Mark Bigelli has done a good job with them.”Mottley said his time at guard as a junior made a difference.
“I think when I switched to guard because of injuries, that helped me become familiar with the position, and I watched a bunch of film,” Mottley said. “Coach Bigelli puts me in good positions to execute. I really like playing guard more than I did last year. Mentally I don’t think it’s too tricky, it’s being there for the rest of the line and making plays for (tailback) Matt Quetel. I enjoy it when a play works and he’s running free -- that’s a pretty rewarding feeling.”
Mottley just hopes he gets the maximum number of chances to make such plays, given 2020.
“We know with the coronavirus any practice could be our last, any game could be our last,” he said. “You have to give it all you have every time -- this year, you never know.”
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.