Despite the lopsided score of Friday night’s Mid-State 38 Delaware Division loss to Bridgewater-Raritan, Phillipsburg had its chances to make the 30-7 loss much more competitive.
The Panthers (3-0 overall and division) only led 13-0 at the half, and it could easily have been 7-0 or even 7-7 had the Stateliners (2-1, 2-1) taken advantage of chances to turn the game around in the first half.
There were two such moments that Phillipsburg missed that may have made the second half a game rather than the 24 minutes of pretty much all-Bridgewater all-the-time that resulted.
The first came on the Panthers’ first offensive possession of the game. Bridgewater faced a 3rd-and-15 at the Phillipsburg 40-yard-line, ahead 6-0. A failure to convert would very likely have led to a punt.
Instead, the Stateliners could not get a rush on Panther senior quarterback Nick Attanasio, who was given far too much time in the pocket. That was one of Phillipsburg head coach Frank Duffy’s major concerns coming into then game — generating a productive pass rush.
Phillipsburg’s coverage downfield was superb initially.
But, as will happen when a quarterback can bob around in the pocket and wait in a leisurely fashion for his receivers to come open, Attanasio eventually found senior Donny Kelton down the field for a back-breaking 21-yard gain to the Stateliner 19.
Three plays later Panther junior running back David Usewick darted into the end zone from two yards out to make it 13-0.
It didn’t help that Kelton was taller than anybody P’burg had on defense, but had Attanasio had less time, the play would never have happened.
“You can’t control that they have 6-foot-5 receivers,” Duffy said.
But Phillipsburg could have controlled the second moment of fate.
Behind the power running of senior fullback Garrett Boures (10 carries, 47 yards), mostly behind the left side of the P’burg line manned by junior tackle Jaleel Boothman, senior guard Nick Josselyn and tight end Zach Troxell, the Stateliners moved briskly from their own 20 to the Bridgewater 16 with just over three minutes left in the second quarter.
But 3rd-and-4 from the 16, Phillipsburg was flagged for crucial false start. That turned the down from a gettable 4 yards to a more challenging 9, which the Stateliners didn’t convert. Then Brendan Grube missed a 38-yard field goal just agonizingly short — from 33 yards, minus the false start that is, it likely would have been good.
“We shot ourselves in the foot in the first half,” Duffy said.
What chances Phillipsburg had to make up for missed chances disappeared on the second play of the second half when Usewick burst off the left side and rambled 42 yards for a TD and a 20-0 Bridgewater lead.
But had the halftime hole the Stateliners faced been less deep -- and it could easily have been -- Usewick's run would not have been the dagger it turned out to be.
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.