There won’t be another home opener in a Phillipsburg football uniform for Matt Quetel.
The senior running back/linebacker decided to make the most of it.
“If you think about it, I’m a senior and this is the last first time I’m ever going to play on this field,” he said. “To make my mark in the last first time, it felt good.”
Quetel scored four touchdowns to pace No. 6 Phillipsburg to a 34-20 victory over Hillsborough in a Big Central Conference Division 4 contest at Maloney Stadium on Saturday night.
The senior registered 161 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 33 carries, and also took a 44-yard screen pass for a score.
Phillipsburg (3-0) had a 27-20 lead and faced third-and-6 with less than 2 minutes to play in the fourth quarter. The Stateliners only needed one more first down, but Quetel decided to end the evening with emphasis.
The senior burst through the line of scrimmage, ran over a defender and sprinted for a 43-yard touchdown to seal the victory.
“Matt is just a workhorse. I just loved his effort at the very end,” Phillipsburg coach Frank Duffy said. “I know he was gassed and he worked through that. That’s what we’re looking for from Matt ... We knew, in a critical time, we needed to give it to our best player.”
Quetel still had something left in the tank after 30-plus touches.
“This is my first year playing both sides of the ball, so I give great thanks to Coach (Craig) Merrick for keeping me and the team conditioned, and healthy,” the senior said.
Hillsborough (1-2) put pressure on Phillipsburg with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns.
Raiders senior running back Sean Levonaitis broke loose for a 27-yard touchdown to cut the home team’s lead to 20-13 with 9:37 on the clock.
Phillipsburg’s response was to give the ball to Quetel nine consecutive times. The tailback took the Stateliners 62 yards in 3 minutes and 27 seconds. He finished off the drive by following a lead blocker into the end zone for a 1-yard TD to give his side a 27-13 advantage with 5:03 left.
A big kickoff return from senior Troy Kennedy set up Hillsborough for a quick score. Junior quarterback James Mazuera pushed his way into the end zone from 2 yards out to put the Raiders within 27-20 with 2:05 remaining.
Then Quetel went back to work, following his offensive line of Jordan Kiley (LT), Ryan Mottley (LG), Matt Barna (C), Luke Slack (RG) and Mulik Warren (RT).
“That dude is a playmaker,” Mottley said of Quetel. “I love blocking for him. He makes plays every, single time. He’s a great player.”
The feeling is mutual for Quetel about his teammates up front.
“I love my line. They’re the ones who create the holes for me. They’re the ones who give me those big runs,” the running back said. “They put in work every, single day. I respect them for that. They’re a great group of guys. There’s nobody I’d rather have out there with me.”
Duffy indicated that Quetel’s success is derived from how he performs during the week.
“He practices like he plays. He’s finishing runs. The coaches are always harping on him to finish runs. He doesn’t take any type of play off,” the coach said. “... I’m really proud of him.”
What a rush
Phillipsburg dominated the first two quarters defensively, got a blocked punt from sophomore Xavier Moore in the second quarter, and took a 14-0 lead into halftime.
The Stateliners' pass rush had a great evening, accumulating six sacks, including three from Barna and 1.5 from Mottley.
“We have a pretty athletic D-line, so we try to use our speed,” Mottley said. “They had some big kids, so we tried to get around them using our athleticism.”
“We did have some breakdowns but I was really happy with the overall effort,” Duffy said of his defense. “We got after the quarterback pretty good with a four-man rush, which is really nice. When you can get home with four and can play coverage behind it, it’s usually a good night for you.”
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Hillsborough’s offense was sparked by a 22-yard touchdown reception by junior Thomas Amankwaa in the third quarter. P’burg did a good job overall, however, of limiting Amankwaa (six catches, 86 yards), a Division I prospect whose brother plays at Akron.
“We had (Jalil Terrell) going to his side every time and I thought No. 28 did a hell of a job,” Duffy said. “(Terrell) is our guy; (Amankwaa) is their guy. We’re going to match best vs. best.”
The 'Liners also matched the Raiders score-for-score when push came to shove in the fourth quarter.
“I liked that game because it was a complete game in terms of highs and lows,” Duffy said. “We jumped off to a good start and we had some times when we faced adversity. It’s nice because we know we’re going to face that later on in the year. To see our guys fight through that was good.”
“I think it was just our motto for the whole year: win the day; win each play,” Mottley said. “We just beat them up every play; eventually, our culture will defeat them in the end.”
P’burg established its offensive battering ram on the first series of the game. The 'Liners used 16 plays to go 66 yards in 9 minutes and 23 seconds. Quetel opened the scoring with a 7-yard TD run.
“That was something that we needed, because driving down the field showed them what kind of team we are and that we can run the ball,” the senior said. “If you’re not going to stop it, we’re just going to keep running.”
The 'Liners, who face 2-0 Watchung Hills next weekend, were happy to give the limited fans in attendance something to cheer about during P’burg’s long-awaited home debut.
“It’s just regular, old Maloney. The energy is always here,” Quetel said. “The fans, the student section, and the band especially, they always do a great job of giving us that extra juice that we need.”
“The coaches were saying all week, we could have a full stadium here or however many we had (500), Maloney Stadium is just different,” Mottley said. “It’s different than any other stadium in the state. It’s awesome playing here.”
Kyle Craig may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.