Phillipsburg senior Xavier Moore’s helmet told the story.
Standing on Bellis Field at Maloney stadium moments after the Stateliners advanced to the NJSIAA North 2 Group 5 championship, Xavier’s younger brother Cameron, 9, and Cameron’s friends asked why his helmet had so many scratches and marks on it.
“That’s work, that’s all them hits,” Moore answered.
That physical style of play that left Moore’s helmet so scuffed up was the driving force behind top-seeded Phillipsburg’s 37-6 victory over fourth-seeded Paterson Eastside in the sectional semifinal Friday night.
The Stateliners (10-0) will play sixth-seeded West Orange, which defeated second-seeded Ridgewood 31-28 in overtime in the other semifinal, 7 p.m. Friday at Maloney Stadium.
The Ghosts (6-4) only managed to move the chains on their first and last possessions, failing to do so on their other seven drives.
“We just needed to settle down a little bit, they gave us an empty formation, did some things that we didn’t really see much on film,” Phillipsburg coach Frank Duffy said of Paterson Eastside’s first drive. “Our coaches made some great adjustments and our guys were good after that.”
“As the game went on we just stayed physical, I say it every week,” Moore said. “(Paterson Eastside) really like to rely on that sprint pass and the screens off the backside. We were reading our keys... It’s all about reading your keys, reading their alignment. There’s a lot that goes into it.”
Phillipsburg scored 30 unanswered points against the Ghosts, who had held five of their last six opponents to 10 points or less.
Four plays into the Stateliners’ second drive, sophomore quarterback Jett Genovese lined up in the shotgun and Moore motioned out of the backfield to Genovese’s left. Genovese briefly looked that way before lofting a deep pass over the middle to senior Isaiah Jackson, who hauled in the catch and took it the rest of the way for a 44-yard touchdown.
On the ensuing kickoff, junior Luke Brogan aimed his kick to his left, away from senior Elijah Carroll, who returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the Ghosts’ 28-7 win over Piscataway in the quarterfinals.
Junior Romadon Adams fielded the return around the 15 before P’burg senior Nate Bartholomew pried the ball free and junior Patrick Day recovered at the Ghosts’ 28.
“We planned to kick away from (Carroll). We prepared for that all week in practice because (Caroll) is very dangerous, we knew how dangerous he was on the film. Our guys did a great of executing the game plan with that,” Duffy said.
Two plays after completing a nine-yard pass to senior Kevin Burgess on 4th-and-8, Genovese rolled to his right, sprinted towards the end zone and dove over the goal line on a 15-yard touchdown run. Brogan’s PAT gave Phillipsburg a 14-0 lead 1:35 into the second quarter.
“That was huge, that was a big momentum swing. That just drives a team in the dirt more and more,” junior right tackle Colin Higgins said.
For much of the game, Higgins was tasked with blocking junior Nyreek Clyburn, who is listed at 6′5″ 225 pounds and has drawn interest from several Division I programs.
“The biggest part was just mentally clearing my head. He’s just another football player at the end of the day and I did the keys to the things I worked on at practice and was able to block him,” Higgins said. “He didn’t really like to rush so hard as much as he liked to just stay and look, so I just had to beat him with physicality. I knew I was going to beat him with speed, so I just tried to stay physical.”
After Brogan drilled a 30-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter to give the Stateliners a 17-0 lead at halftime, their ground game took over.
Moore punctuated Phillipsburg’s second and third drives of the second half with rushing touchdowns.
With 1:06 left in the third quarter, Moore took a handoff to the right and, thanks to Higgins, senior tight end Connor Hille and junior fullback Caleb Rivera sealing the edge, had enough room to walk in on a six-yard touchdown.
“That was great. You block your guy, you look over, you see him run into the end zone. Everyone’s all happy, there’s no better feeling,” Higgins said.
“It’s beautiful,” Moore said of being afforded that room to run.
Moore scored on an eight-yard touchdown run up the middle with 9:22 left in the fourth quarter and finished with 56 yards on 14 carries.
“He worked very hard for his time in football,” Cameron Moore said.
Genovese completed completed 12 of 22 passes for 154 yards.
Rivera took 12 carries for 46 yards. Senior Jayson Garcia added 27 yards on five carries in the fourth and junior Omar Dominguez scored the final touchdown of the game on a 27-yard score.
The Stateliners combined for 175 yards on the ground.
“We practice hard and I think that’s what separates us in that second half of football. We’re conditioned,” Higgins said. “Other teams, they’re gassed, they’re getting ready and we’re just firing on all cylinders.”
Phillipsburg will look to capture its first sectional title since 2018 against West Orange (7-3). Senior receiver/defensive back Saboor Karriem, an Illinois commit, made 11 catches for 135 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Ridgewood.
“It’s going to be hard one. We’re never one to back down from an opponent. It’s what we came here for, we came here to play the best of the best and beat the best of the best,” Moore said.
Desmond Boyle may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.