Ridge controlled the football for most of the first half, yet Phillipsburg was adamant about not all
Ridge controlled the football for most of the first half, yet Phillipsburg was adamant about not allowing the Red Devils to dictate tempo with all those opportunities.
The fortunate combination of a scintillating kick return by Kevin Burgess and a stingy defense allowed the Stateliners to keep the score close despite their scant possession time through those first two quarters.
Phillipsburg then scored on its opening drive of the second half and seized momentum both with its balanced running game and turnover-inducing defense to rally to a 28-10 victory in a Big Central Conference-American Silver Division clash Friday night in Basking Ridge.
The Stateliners ran only nine plays in that first half to Ridge’s 32, though trailed only 10-7, thanks to a 98-yard kick return by Burgess to answer a 47-yard field goal by Asgrimur Gudmundsson on Ridge’s game-opening series, and by a resilient defense that refused to wear down under tiring work conditions.
“Our defense held them and really kept us in the game,” Phillipsburg sophomore quarterback Jett Genovese said of that defense led by Connor Hille, Brandon Wyant, Jack Regan, John Wargo and Cameron Bohal.
“It’s a bend-but-don’t-break mentality all the time, and they didn’t break at all,” he said.
No, that defense was causing breaks by the second half with two of its three interceptions, including one in the fourth quarter by senior Liam Slack that he returned 55 yards to score the Liners’ final TD with 4:39 to play. Patrick Day and Bohal also came down with picks to help Phillipsburg move to 2-0 and claim its eighth straight victory over Ridge (1-1).
“I’m really happy with our defense. It was all about eye discipline with the Wing-T (run by Ridge), and our guys really tightened up,” Phillipsburg head coach Frank Duffy said. “We gave up some big plays there, but overall I really like the way our guys responded. Especially, of course, in the second half.”
In that second half, Ridge was able to rush for only 11 yards while P’Burg compiled 138 of its 166 on the ground with Xavier Moore, Caleb Rivera, Jayson Garcia, Wargo, Genovese and even junior punter Luke Brogan sharing most of those duties.
Brogan’s one run, in fact, was the key catalyst of the Stateliners’ drive to begin the second half. On fourth-and-four from his 40-yard-line, he faked a punt and scampered 14 yards.
A dead-ball penalty brought the ball back to the P’Burg 39, but Moore promptly advanced it to midfield with an 11-yard run, and Genovese followed that two plays later with a 37-yard pass to Hille to the Ridge 10. Genovese muscled his way over from the one for a 14-10 lead after Brogan kicked his second of four PAT.
“It’s a game of momentum; they had momentum, too. I think we got some momentum with the fake punt,” Duffy said. “We saw the look we wanted and it was good.”
Ridge followed that touchdown with a momentum-building drive that carried it all the way to the Phillipsburg one-yard line. But a procedure call backed the Red Devils up five yards, and then they fumbled on the next snap. Hille recovered for the Stateliners at the 13-yard line.
“Our defense has been so good; they really do such a great job preparing,” Genovese said. “They did a great job in that first half, and then the second half was all about coming out there and finding a way to score.
“As an offense, we have to be a lot better, and we will be. But it’s always good to have the win no matter what, especially against a good team like Ridge,” he said.
Phillipsburg’s opportunistic defense was in fine form right out of the gate, as it rallied past Sayreville last week, 14-7, behind a 67-yard interception return for a TD by Wargo in the second half. Ridge began the season with a 48-0 victory over Monroe.
Senior QB Jack Berisha passed for 240 yards and three touchdowns against Monroe last week and was 22 of 36 for 235 yards against P’Burg. He gave the Red Devils a 10-7 lead with a gutty 5-yard run into the middle of the defense to cap a three-play, 23-yard move that started with a fumble recovery by Ryan Olivo and ended with just 18 seconds to go in the half.
Olivo caught six of Berisha’s passes for 76 yards, Will Deady took in six for 67, and Patrick McCaffrey had five for 54.
Phillipsburg opened a 21-10 lead with a splendid, 45-yard TD run by Rivera with 6:23 remaining in the contest. He bounced away from a group of defenders at the line of scrimmage, eluded another seemingly sure tackle at about the five-yard line and dived over the goal line.