The Phillipsburg football team never broke stride this fall as it marched to the postseason with an unbeaten record.
Top-seeded Phillipsburg defeated the eighth-seeded Minutemen 49-13 at Maloney Stadium Friday night.
The Stateliners (9-0) will face fourth-seeded Paterson Eastside in the semifinals 7 p.m. Friday at Maloney Stadium. The Ghosts defeated Piscataway 28-7 in their quarterfinal.
Phillipsburg scored touchdowns on six of its first seven possessions and forced four turnovers in the first half.
“Some guys stepped up, just flying to the ball and playing our brand of defense. It always runs through our defense and our guys set the tone,” Phillipsburg coach Frank Duffy said.
The Stateliners built a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter after scoring on each of their first three drives, and scored twice in the final 20 seconds of the first half to put the running clock into effect in the second half via the mercy rule.
After Phillipsburg junior Caleb Rivera came up with a fumble recovery at the Stateliners’ 14, P’burg drove 63 yards in 10 plays. On 2nd-and-9 from the Elizabeth 23, sophomore quarterback Jett Genovese was blindsided by a big hit as he threw and temporarily left the game.
On fourth-and-long, Rivera was stopped short on a fake punt attempt but got Phillipsburg the ball back four plays later on another fumble recovery.
“I just saw a lot of people willing to take a risk and hit hard, causing fumbles. I really couldn’t have done it without my team,” Rivera said.
Genovese returned to the field as the Stateliners took over and, on the first play of the drive, lofted a pass to his left that junior Kevin Burgess out-leapt a pair of defenders for on a 30-yard touchdown catch with 20 seconds left in the first half.
“As a competitor, you always want to be out there with the guys. Tough hit there, but bounced back up. I was alright, just got the wind knocked out of me there,” Genovese said.
“Jett is a tough guy. We need him a lot, he’s a big player. That touchdown, it was a play that we run in practice all the time and it just ended up working out,” Burgess said. “It was a great thing. Our defense was coming up with big plays and after our big plays, our offense was making even bigger plays and scoring touchdowns.”
It was Phillipsburg’s special teams that came up with the next big play, as senior Xavier Arrington-Mitchell recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff.
Three plays later, Genovese found Isaiah Jackson in the back of the end zone as the senior made an over-the-shoulder grab on a 20-yard TD with no time left in the second quarter. Junior Luke Brogan’s PAT gave the Stateliners a 35-0 lead at the break.
“That end of the half, we had to get a shot deep. Our playmakers went up there and got a ball. Those guys did a great job all year,” Genovese said. “Lot of work in practice with those guys. They do a great job of getting open, working to the football, making a great catch.”
Senior Xavier Moore made it 42-0 two plays into the second half thanks to a 46-yard touchdown run up the middle.
The Minutemen (2-7) deployed a unique formation on the first possession of the game with just two linemen flanking the center and another three linemen wide to the left of junior quarterback, Vito Tropeano Jr.
The Stateliners weren’t thrown off by the odd alignment.
“We prepared for it, we absolutely prepared for it. They had a little bit of a deviation from what we saw on film but we prepared for it. We actually took two periods, one on Wednesday and one on Thursday, to go over it and prepare. Our guys were ready for it. We knew it was going to come, I just didn’t think it’d be the first play,” Duffy said.
Tropeano Jr. threw two incompletions before completing a screen pass to senior Dale Pettaway that Rivera read and stopped for a loss of five.
“We just played really fast and physical. We just kept the momentum going,” Rivera said.
On 4th-and-15, Elizabeth never got a punt away and Phillipsburg took over at the Minutemen 25.
On his first pass of the game, Genovese hit fellow-sophomore Matthew Scerbo Jr., who juked past a defender in open space before running into the end zone on an 18-yard TD pass.
Five plays into Elizabeth’s next possession, Tropeano Jr. threw a pass over the middle that Moore tipped up in the air and Burgess intercepted.
“Xavier played great defense on that play. I saw him bat the ball up and I came in and got the pick,” Burgess said.
Five plays later, Moore reached the end zone on a two-yard touchdown run that gave the Stateliners a 14-0 lead with 5:17 left in the first quarter.
“I think it was a big job by us to hit them from the jump. Start off strong, I think we did a good job with that,” Genovese said. “Striking first with the run game, we imposed our will there.”
Rivera made it 21-0 on the first play of the second quarter, showing good patience before breaking free on a 48-yard touchdown run.
“I think we have the best offensive line in the state,” Rivera said. “I had two nice blocks so I was just trying to wait and see what they were going to do. I was just reading off them and what blocks they were doing.”
The junior then brought Elizabeth’s next two possessions to a halt with the back-to-back fumble recoveries.
Rivera finished with 78 rushing yards on nine carries. Moore paced Phillipsburg’s rushing attack with 104 yards on 11 carries.
Genovese completed 8 of 11 passes for 128 yards and three touchdowns.
The Stateliners will now look to advance to their first sectional final since 2018.
“The thing I’m most proud of is that we afforded ourselves another opportunity to play at home. We afforded ourselves another opportunity to play at the greatest place to play high school football in New Jersey, that’s what I’m most proud of,” Duffy said.
Desmond Boyle may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.