When teams try to run the ball on Phillipsburg,Robert Melise and his fellow Stateliner defenders have an answer.
“There’s nothing better for a defensive lineman than when we’re getting a push and shoving the offensive line back,” said Melise after his unit held Hunterdon Central to 50 yards rushing in Friday night’s 17-14 Mid-State 38 Delaware Division win at the Red Devils’ Stewart Field. “That’s want I want, for me and Trox (Zach Troxell) and Nick(Jossleyn) and Blaise (Santini) to be getting that push. Our job’s to hold up the linemen and let the linebackers fill the gaps.”
The Stateliners (2-0) have now allowed just 105 rushing yards in their two wins. Take away quarterback scrambles, and P’burg has probably held foes to 60-70 yards on designed running plays.
“It’s an attitude, stopping the run,” Stateliner coach Frank Duffy said. “These guys have all bought into what we are doing, and coach Chris Hull does a great job with our schemes.”
Friday’s schemes involved a lot of three-man lines as Central (0-2) started to take to the air more after earning just 22 yards on the ground in the first half, But even against a more spread-out Stateliner group, the Devils really couldn’t run the ball, though quarterback Christian Shaw got loose on a quarterback draw or two.
In the end those yards didn’t matter, because the P’burg run defense came up big when called on.
No bigger than late in the second quarter.
Hunterdon Central had driven to the Stateliner 23 with 42 seconds left in the half and the score tied at 7. A Red Devil score right before the half would have been devastating to Phillipsburg and a huge boost for the hosts.
Facing 4th-and-2 from the 23, Central sent the nifty if smallish Shaw towards Troxell’s defensive end spot on the left side of the P’burg defense.
“My assignments on the run are to make sure they get nothing off-tackle,” Troxell said. “On that play, I kept driving my feet, and (linebacker) Danny Fisher had (Shaw) low and set me up to finish him up top. It was perfectly executed.”
As Phillipsburg’s run defense was almost the entire evening.
Having made Central one-dimensional, the Stateliner front four wreaked havoc on the Red Devils’ passing game. Shaw was running for his life much of the second half, with Troxell having a sack and Melise adding a pass knockdown and a sack as well. Penalties called on Central trying to stop Melise and Troxell pass rushing ended one promising Hunterdon Central drive as well.
“Sacks are the best,” Melise said. “And I got that pass breakup because of that push we get up front It all starts from the push.”
That push defines Phillipsburg’s defense – and is a good answer for anybody’s offense.
Brad Wilson may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.