Kassym Domond knows a great eraser to nearly any miscue on the football field.
“We played physical. That’s the only way we know how to play,” the Phillipsburg High School two-way senior lineman said. “Even the mistakes, the physicality covered half of it. The physicality did most of the work for us.”
The Stateliners, ranked No. 7 by lehighvalleylive.com, used a smash-mouth approach to rush for 290 yards and beat No. 8 North Hunterdon 48-21 during a Big Central Conference cross-divisional game on Friday night at Maloney Stadium.
Running away with it
North Hunterdon (3-1) scored 14 straight points to cut Phillipsburg’s advantage to 27-21 with 5:23 remaining in the third quarter. That’s when the Stateliners used their running game to restore order in their home opener.
The hosts (3-0) took 5 minutes and 25 seconds to travel 54 yards on 10 straight rushing plays. Senior tailback Xavier Moore used a 3-yard plunge to convert a fourth-and-2 and junior fullback John Wargo capped the series by bulldozing several defenders en route to a 14-yard score.
Luke Brogan’s extra point extended Phillipsburg’s lead to 34-21 with 8 seconds gone in the fourth quarter.
“Our defense was struggling there a little bit,” Stateliners coach Frank Duffy said about leaning on the rushing attack. “We wanted to chew some clock off, and we knew how well we were doing offensively running the ball.”
Controversy erupted on the ensuing kickoff. North Hunterdon had trouble fielding a squib kick, and Phillipsburg senior Hunter Cleaver emerged from a pile with the ball. It initially looked like the Stateliners were being awarded possession. Lions coach Kevin Kley vigorously argued with the officials, who eventually conferenced and decided an inadvertent whistle spoiled the play and a rekick was necessary.
After the redo, the Lions reached the Phillipsburg 33-yard line but fumbled on second-and-6. Domond jumped on the loose ball.
“I wasn’t even thinking,” the senior said. “I saw it; I jumped on it. I just did my job. I did what I was taught.”
When the two-way lineman was asked if he was excited for a chance to actually touch the football, he could barely contain himself.
“Hell yeah!” he exclaimed before settling back down.
Domond had good reason to be thrilled. P’burg extended its lead about 3 minutes later when junior running back Caleb Rivera broke free for a 48-yard touchdown sprint on fourth-and-1, pushing the hosts ahead 41-21 with 7:02 to play.
The ‘Liners offense converted three fourth downs in the second half.
“I have confidence in our players ... Our backs always fall forward,” Duffy said. “We coach to win; we play to win. That’s our philosophy.”
Not only do P’burg’s running backs usually “fall forward,” they typically bowl over a handful of defenders before the play is over.
Wargo, who broke at least a dozen tackles on Friday night, punctuated the evening with a 53-yard score with 2:58 to play.
“We don’t stop. We always keep going no matter what. There’s no such thing as tired here at P’burg,” said Wargo, who unofficially had 11 carries for 120 yards and two scores. “You go all the way through the fourth quarter. That’s exactly what we did and that’s why we won.”
Wargo, Rivera (nine carries, 88 yards, two TDs), Moore (18 carries, 54 yards, one TD) and even quarterback Jett Genovese (5 carries, 26 yards, one TD) aren’t shy about taking on would-be tacklers.
“My thought process is: ‘I’m going to run you over,’” Wargo said. “... I don’t know what they’re (the defenders) thinking; I don’t care what they’re thinking.”
“We practice physical,” Duffy explained. “It starts with the way we practice and the way these guys prepare. Coach (Ian) Decker does an outstanding job with them. It really starts in the offseason with our strength and conditioning coach, Coach (Craig) Merrick.”
Lions roar back
North Hunterdon appeared to be toast when P’burg senior Isaiah Jackson returned the opening kickoff of the second half to the Lions’ 13-yard line. Moore scored four plays later to put the ‘Liners ahead 27-7.
North Hunterdon star tailback Kente Edwards, however, instantly gave his team a bolt of energy. The Navy recruit broke off runs of 41 and 31 yards and the visitors needed just 44 seconds to score on a 7-yard scamper from senior Alex Uryniak.
A holding penalty spoiled P’burg’s next possession. The Lions went right back to Edwards, who had runs of 12 and 29 yards before weaving through the right side of the defense for a 28-yard TD – making it a one-possession game, 27-21.
Edwards was sensational, displaying his track-star speed and great strength while taking 16 carries for 210 yards. He also had an interception on defense.
“He’s fast; he runs hard; he runs smart,” North coach Kevin Kley said. “... He’s a really great running back. He deserves that Navy offer and everything that goes with it.”
“He is something else,” Duffy added. “He’s one of the best we ever played.”
Ultimately, North couldn’t overcome three turnovers and other negative plays to keep its record unblemished.
“We forced turnovers; we had some big plays; we had some good drives,” Kley said. “Obviously, it’s P’burg and it’s a very good team. I think we are just as good as them, but P’burg doesn’t make mistakes ... They will never give you a game. That’s what makes them such a good team and it’s what Coach Duffy does so well ... We made plenty of plays to win the game, but we had too many self-inflicted wounds.”
North had a chance to go into intermission with momentum.
Joey Edwards recovered a fumble for the Lions at their own 40-yard line. On the next play, quarterback Luke Martini hit Danny DeLusant in the seam for a 60-yard TD. The PAT cut P’burg’s lead to 13-7 with 2:06 remaining in the second quarter.
P’burg faced a third-and-19 from midfield on the following series. The ‘Liners got a fresh set of downs when Genovese hit Kevin Burgess (5 catches, 103 yards) down the away sideline for a 32-yard gain.
Three plays later, Genovese connected with Matthew Scerbo Jr. on a 6-yard fade for a touchdown, and the Stateliners took a 20-7 advantage into the break.
Duffy was excited to see the “sophomore-to-sophomore connection” of Genovese to Scerbo Jr.
“I’m just really proud of our guys. We had a lot of ups and downs there,” the coach said. “We executed a two-minute drive really well at the end of the half. Scoring before the end of the half is always huge.”
North will try to return to the win column next Saturday at Plainfield.
The ‘Liners have another big test coming up as unbeaten Hillsborough visits Maloney Stadium.
“This is great, but we can only savor it for so long, and then we’ve got to get back to work,” Wargo said. “That’s exactly what we’re going to do.”
Kyle Craig may be reached at email@example.com.