The first of Stateliner junior Cameron Bohal’s two fourth-quarter interceptions was followed by late hits and flags flying. Phillipsburg was assessed the first of four personal fouls called in the closing stages of the contest, with two being called on each team.
Bohal pulled in his second interception at the Stateliners’ 10 with 3:43 remaining to put the finishing touches on their 21-7 victory in a Big Central Conference American Silver Division matchup.
“It was just a hard-fought win. I knew Hunterdon Central was tough, this is a proud football program. They always play us hard and we’re always in dog fights,” Phillipsburg coach Frank Duffy said. “Maybe we needed that, because we made a lot of mistakes… We’ll regroup, we did a lot of good things.”
Phillipsburg (5-0) has now won 10 straight games against the Red Devils (2-4).
“I don’t think it’s a rivalry for us, it’s more for them. You know our only rival is the team across the bridge,” Bohal said.
The junior picked off both passes from the middle of the field, thanks in part to the Stateliners’ pass rush bearing down on Hunterdon Central junior quarterback RJ Hart.
“I don’t think it’s so much my role, I think it’s the linebackers, the D-line, they cause havoc. The quarterback has to just throw it up and I just come in and take the pick,” Bohal said.
The Red Devils scored in the final minute of the third quarter when Hart connected with senior Joseph Valentino on a 29-yard gain before finding junior Connor Gray on a 27-yard touchdown that cut Phillipsburg’s lead to 21-7.
On the second play of the Stateliners’ ensuing possession, junior John Wargo fumbled and Hunterdon Central recovered at the Phillipsburg 40.
The Red Devils lost five yards on the first play of the next drive but moved the chains on a 15-yard catch by senior Trevor Fisch along the away sideline that appeared to hit the ground before he hauled it in, prompting an irate, jumping-in-place reaction from Duffy.
Two plays later, Bohal gave the Stateliners sideline something to celebrate when he intercepted a pass towards senior Michael Carbo with 9:47 left to play.
“I saw (Carbo) come in, he ran a post or something, and (Hart) just chucked up the ball because of the D-line with the pressure,” Bohal said.
Phillipsburg chewed up 3:38 of game time before turning the ball over on downs at the Red Devils’ 17.
Hunterdon Central moved to within a yard of midfield on pass plays of 13 and 19 yards before Phillipsburg junior Caleb Rivera sacked Hart, pushing the Red Devils back to their own 39.
“It just changes our pass rush a little bit but we still have to contain outside and do our jobs,” Rivera said of defending a pass-heavy opponent “We’re all just super physical.”
A personal foul penalty on the Stateliners helped Hunterdon Central move the chains one final time before Bohal’s second pick. Phillipsburg was assessed 7 penalties for 80 yards throughout the game.
“We gotta work on ball security issues. We gotta work on missed tackles and busted coverages. I told these guys penalties, oh boy, too many penalties. A lot to work on,” Duffy said.
The Stateliners put the ball on the turf on their second drive of the game.
Phillipsburg moved the ball 53 yards in just five plays but, on first-and-goal from the 2, senior Xavier Moore fumbled as he crossed the goal line and the Red Devils recovered in the end zone for a touchback.
“I fumbled and that’s all there really is to it. I thought I scored, we all thought I scored but if I didn’t score than it is what it is. It’s another thing we’ve gotta clean up,” Moore said.
The Stateliners responded by forcing a turnover on downs before putting together a 14-play, 72-yard drive capped off by a six-yard touchdown run by Moore with 1:09 left in the second quarter.
“That was all heart. We didn’t punch it in on the first drive so we knew we had to capitalize,” Moore said. “Kept them out of the end zone. We just had to punch it right back down the field, get one of our own. It’s all about grit, it’s all about passion. At the end of the day we want it more and we’re going to get it.”
Hunterdon Central received the opening kickoff of the second half but Phillipsburg junior Patrick Day forced a fumble and senior Hunter Cleaver recovered at the Red Devils’ 40.
Seven plays later, sophomore Jett Genovese hit fellow-sophomore Matthew Scerbo Jr. over the middle for an 18-yard touchdown pass 3:57 into the third quarter.
Hunterdon Central then turned the ball over on downs deep in Stateliner territory again, and Phillipsburg responded with a long touchdown drive again.
“I was just proud of how we played, we played hard. That score didn’t indicate the game,” Hunterdon Central coach Casey Ransone said. “… Our kids fought back, we just have to execute better. That’s a really good football team. They’re physical, we answered… We had opportunities to win this game, we’ve just gotta execute better.”
Genovese found Scerbo Jr. on a 24-yard touchdown pass to conclude a 9-play, 84-yard drive.
“It’s just been really good,” Duffy said of the connection between the two sophomores. “They just get better every single week. They work on it in practice and they fine-tune their craft. Really nice to see those guys continue to get better, great kids too.”
Genovese threw for 199 yards, 103 of which went to Scerbo Jr. on seven catches.
Moore paced Phillipsburg with 84 rushing yards on 16 carries. Genovese earned 71 yards on the ground while Wargo ran for 27 and Rivera gained 23.
“It’s what we do,” Moore said of the Stateliners’ ground game. “We’re going to run between the tackles. It’s never going to stop. We got 11 guys ready to run through a brick wall.”
Wargo finished with a team-high six tackles. Along with his four tackles and two sacks on defense, Rivera slipped out of the flat twice and racked up yards after catch on receptions of 26 and 43 yards.
“We talked about it in practice and we knew it was going to be there. Running that, it was pretty good,” Rivera said. “Without the offensive line, without all 11 guys, it wouldn’t be there.”
Phillipsburg will look to move to 6-0 when it hosts Bridgewater-Raritan (2-4).
Desmond Boyle may be reached at email@example.com.