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Trio of 1st-half INTs give Phillipsburg football momentum early in win over Union

Each one of the Phillipsburg football team’s first-half interceptions seemed more impressive than the last.

In their Big Central Conference cross-divisional contest against Union, the Stateliners came away with three INT’s on the Farmers’ first four possessions and scored on their first two drives of either half to roll to a 42-14 victory at Maloney Stadium Friday night.

“Our momentum on defense is what keeps our team going, that and special teams keeps our team going. It helps our offense get started and get something going,” junior wide receiver and defensive back Kevin Burgess said.

The Stateliners (7-0) scored nine plays into the opening drive of the game when sophomore quarterback Jett Genovese, with plenty of time to throw, found Burgess with a deep pass to his right on a 49-yard touchdown.

Two plays into Union’s first possession, starting quarterback O’Malley King was injured after taking a hit during a run play and only returned for a handful of snaps for the rest of the game. Junior Kasie McDowell took his place and attempted his first pass of the game two plays later on third-and-eight.

McDowell rolled right and threw towards the sideline but Phillipsburg junior Cameron Bohal made an acrobatic effort to keep one foot in bounds as he intercepted the pass. Six plays later, Genovese threw another touchdown pass, this one an 18-yard toss to fellow-sophomore Matthew Scerbo Jr. on a fade.

“We’ve been emphasizing, ‘start strong, start strong,’ that’s what we did right there. We had a rough job last weekend, I don’t think we put up any points in the first quarter so that’s a good job by our guys to execute,” Genovese said.

Thanks to a 43-yard reception down the home sideline by sophomore Renick Dorilas, the Farmers (2-5) had first-and-10 at the Stateliners’ 27 on their next drive. Two plays later, McDowell attempted a screen pass over the middle that Phillipsburg senior Hunter Cleaver read, intercepted and sprinted 67 yards the other way for a touchdown that extended the Liners’ lead to 20-0 2:06 into the second quarter.

“He’s secretly athletic. Obviously, you see him on the wrestling mat,” Duffy said of Cleaver. “He’s a really athletic kid and you saw some wheels on him there.”

Four plays after senior Omar Ibrahim pulled in a 40-yard reception on a deep post that moved Union to within eight yards of the goal line, Dorilas made a contested catch in the middle of the end zone to cut P’burg’s lead to 20-7.

Two penalties prevented the Stateliners from moving the chains on their next possession and Union took over five yards from midfield with 4:44 left in the first half. Two plays into the Farmers’ drive, McDowell looked for Ibrahim on the post again but Burgess was in better position this time and snagged the ball with one hand.

“He got me on the one before that, the last series. I knew I had to get it back so I was just trailing him the whole time. He was holding my other arm so I just stuck it out with one hand,” Burgess said.

“Kevin did an outstanding job on that,” Duffy said. “They got us on that one post and he did an outstanding job of correcting his technique. He knew they were coming back to him and he squeezed on the back side receiver and did a great job staying on top of the route.”

Phillipsburg’s third interception of the first half preserved a 20-7 lead at halftime.

Genovese punctuated the Stateliners’ first two drives of the second half with one-yard touchdown runs, the second of which extended their lead to 35-14 with 9:44 left to play. The sophomore completed 9 of 12 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns.

“Never stop, we’re not stopping. Last week we won, but it just didn’t feel like a win to us, 28-13, it just didn’t feel like a win to us. We felt like we really should’ve put more on (Bridgewater-Raritan),” Genovese said. “This is our standard, we set our standard high here and that was a really good job by our guys. This win feels good but were on to next week.”

Phillipsburg gained 177 of its 223 rushing yards in the second half. Senior Xavier Moore finished with 118 yards on 18 carries.

“We just had the pass game going and then, eventually, we just clicked and just started running it down their throat,” senior left guard Qian Walters said. “Size don’t matter, we got more heart. Clearly, we out-physicaled them. It’s just the way that we practice.”

Junior Caleb Rivera rushed for 41 yards on seven carries and snagged a 22-yard reception. Junior John Wargo gained 34 yards on six carries and scored the final touchdown on a nine-yard run off the right tackle with 2:16 remaining.

“As a lineman, I love it because our job is to protect them. Our job is to make sure they score, do what they’re supposed to do. We’re making them look good and they’re making us look good, it’s just a whole team effort,” Walters said.

In the second half, McDowell completed eight of 13 passes for 76 yards for no touchdowns and just one completion of more than 20 yards.

“The secondary has been playing great, we have been all season. We switched a couple in different positions, like last week Isaiah Jackson was playing corner, this week Cam was. Secondary has just been great, our coach says we’re one of the best in the state and I believe that,” Burgess said.

Senior Diego Santana ended Union’s final drive by forcing and recovering a fumble.

“Our guys got after him. We always want to get places with violent intentions. I think that’s the goal defensively, get there with violent intentions and I think you saw that tonight with a lot of our guys,” Duffy added on the Stateliners’ pass rush.

Phillipsburg can cap off an unbeaten regular season with a win at East Brunswick (0-7) next week.

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Desmond Boyle may be reached at

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