Run the ball. The Stateliners have little chance of beating Easton with a rushing performance like they had in each of their last two games. Phillipsburg didn’t crack the 100-yard mark on the ground against Immaculata or Sayreville, and managed just 60 yards against Sayreville. That simply will not do. Parkland ran for 246 yards in its 42-7 defeat of the Rovers in the District 11 playoffs, and the Trojans’ ground game isn’t especially fancy, so the Stateliners should be able to run the ball, either with senior Garrett Boures’ power or senior Ja’Quan Jones’ slashing style. Without, say, 150-plus rushing yards, it will be a long day for Phillipsburg.
Flag the penalties. In two of their last three games, Phillipsburg had had 50 or more yards in penalties. The flags crippled the offense against Immaculata and made the task of beating North Hunterdon harder than it had to be. The margin for error is considerably less against Easton, so the Stateliners must minimize the flags. That is especially so in the case of the false start/offside penalties, the “pre-snap” penalties, that can be avoided with focus and mental toughness. For an offense such as P’burg’s, 1st and 15 is a whole lot different than 1st and 10. “We can’t go in and hurt ourselves,” junior Jaleel Boothman said. “We have to limit the penalties.”
Special specials. In each of the last two games in this series special teams have played an enormous role. A punt return won the 2014 game for the Stateliners while Easton scored in 2015 on a punt return, a fumbled punt snap, and kicked two field goals. “Easton is solid in the kicking game,” Phillipsburg head coach Frank Duffy said. “In a game like this, special teams are huge.” Brendan Grube gives Phillipsburg a field goal threat out to 40 yards and Jones can return any kick for a score. The Stateliners may need a stellar special team performance to put some points on the board.
Field position wanted. Related to special teams is field position. Duffy called it “critical” and said, “You win field position with special teams.” If Phillipsburg can keep the field position in its favor, it can be open with its offense, take advantage of short fields to score, and pin the Rovers back in territory where a mistake or turnover isn’t just a setback but quickly becomes points. Grube’s punting will be huge as will Stateliner kick coverage teams.
Robert Melise. The Phillipsburg senior defensive tackle/center might have been the best player on the field in last season’s 26-0 Easton win as a junior. The 5-foot-11, 245-pounder probably will be the best player at Fisher Stadium on Thanksgiving Day. He is a force of nature on defense who can make big plays all by himself. The Rovers struggled to block Melise last year and may well have no more success this time. Forced fumbles, strip sacks, tackles for loss, blocked kicks – Melise can make a major difference in many different fashions from his defensive spot.
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.