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Terrell, P’burg hoping for cleaner football after first loss

Phillipsburg enters Friday’s Big Central Conference Division 4 home game (7) with rival North Hunterdon in a new spot in 2020. After a loss, that is. The Stateliners (3-1 league and overall) dropped a 21-20 decision to Watchung Hills (3-0) last Saturday and will try and bounce back against the Lions (1-3, 1-2). “That loss really hurts,” Phillipsburg senior wide receiver and cornerback Jalil Terrell said. “We have to play a lot cleaner game to win close games like that.” Terrell’s cleanup might include the 14 penalties, 3 turnovers and a safety, all surrendered Saturday by the Stateliners. Any repetition of such issues could well give North Hunterdon a chance to snap its two-game losing streak, as P’burg head coach Frank Duffy well knows. “Some of the penalties are going to happen when kids are being aggressive, but 14 is still a lot,” Duffy said. “Some of the holding penalties were things we certainly can correct, but some of the pass interferences are going to happen in man coverage, trying to make plays. It was more than penalties; we turned the ball over going into the end zone, we didn’t get any defensive takeaways, we let them convert a key 4th-and-12, we missed an extra point, we were up 14-0 and it could have been 28-0. We should have had more scoring drives, and then we couldn’t get off the field defensively. Watchung had 70-plus offensive plays.” That’s quite a fix-up list the Stateliners faced in practice this week, but Terrell said there was no doubt he and his teammates felt urgency to get things fixed right now. “We only have 30-something days left in the season,” said Terrell Wednesday; to be precise, when he said that, there were 29 days until Thanksgiving. “We have to put in the effort, reel everything in and work towards our awesome goal.” A reporter mentioned it was hard to believe Thanksgiving and the 114th showdown with Easton was so close, and Terrell laughed. “It really does feel like everything is moving at a really fast pace this season,” he said. That would include Terrell himself, who has become one of the Stateliners' top-shelf standouts on both sides of the ball. The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Phillipsburg resident has caught 11 passes for 138 yards and 3 touchdowns while becoming the go-to source for lockdown coverage in the secondary. “Jalil has become such a force on offense,” Duff said. “And when we’re looking at the other team’s top receiver, he is the one we know can match their best -- he’s that guy. He has very good vision of the field at cornerback.” Offensively, Duffy praised Terrell’s ability to find the open spaces to unlock defenses and get room to operate in. “It’s just me using my speed and athleticism,” Terrell said. “I know I can make the play whenever I get the opportunity, and I know I have to make the play. Whenever I touch the ball, I know I can make a big play.” One area Terrell has been focusing on is right at the start of every play. “I have been working on my release off the line of scrimmage, day in and day out,” he said. “That has really helped me a lot. We are seeing a lot of tight coverage now, defensive backs within five yards of our receivers.” Terrell and senior first-year starting quarterback Matt Garatty have also bonded nicely. “As soon as we got the green light to go out and work together, we’ve been throwing the ball and we got comfortable with each other right away,” Terrell said. “We’re in a good place right there. Matt has a lot of touch when he throws the ball.” Duffy would like to see more such hookups in games. “We took advantage of a matchup a couple of times with Jalil, but we could have done it more,” he said. Terrell cited two key factors boosting his cornerback play. “It all starts with my technique and my alignment,” he said. “I think if my technique is good, I can cover anybody. Even with taller receivers, I have confidence I can get in their face and challenge them play in and play out. I feel like my confidence is way higher right now.”Terrell has also been getting it done when the ball isn’t live. “I feel I like I am more of a leader this year, showing the younger guys how things are done,” said Terrell, who said he had a good teacher in such matters. “I benefited from older guys like Bobby Coury showing me the way things are done here, and I show the way -- always be focused, always be on time. The (younger guys) see it happening and it starts to flow.” This fall, with the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the mix of virtual and in-class instruction, has made veteran leadership even more essential. “For me, personally, virtual learning is really fan and nothing changed that much for me (school-wise) but, yes, it took a while for everybody to get on the same page,” Terrell said. “But they really picked it up fast.” Now, Terrell and the Stateliners hope everybody picks it up this week to make sure that loss number stays at one. “Sometimes, especially here, it can feel like doomsday after a loss,” Duffy said. “The guys have shrugged the loss off and we are ready; we still feel good about what we’re doing.” Terrell sure does. “I think we have responded really well,” he said. “We know we have to win every practice this week, win each day, and then go out and perform.” Brad Wilson may be reached at

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