Phillipsburg snapped Bridgewater-Raritan’s 24-game regular season football winning streak and stepped in the spotlight of Garden State football using a very simple formula.
Win up front.
The Stateliners’ lines provided the power to fuel a 30-7 stomping of the Panthers in a Mid-State 37 Delaware Division contest in front of a packed house at Basilone Field in Bridgewater.
“The line did a hell of a job,” junior quarterback Jack Stagaard said.
Stagaard meant his offensive line, but the same compliment could have paid to the defensive line that slammed the door on every Bridgewater possession but one.
Phillipsburg’s lines really took over the game after halftime. The Stateliners fought the Panthers at worst to a draw and at best to a slight advantage in the first half that ended tied at 7.
But after the half, Phillipsburg outscored the hosts 23-0 and ruled in the trenches.
“I don’t think it was any personnel or scheme change in the second half,” Stateliner head coach Frank Duffy said. “I don’t think it was anything we as coaches did. I think it was a bunch of kids who played their tails off.”
On offense, those kids would be center Patrick Sharpe, guards Nick Josselyn and Zach Leong, tackles David Capitini and Jaleel Boothman, and tight ends Sean Morro and Jevon Boothman.
On defense, Josselyn, Leong, the Boothmans, and Capitini.
They took the game to Bridgewater and beat them up. As one Stateliner coach said, “(Bridgewater) just wanted to go home by the end.”
In the first half, the offensive line showed its skill in pass protection. On 23 pass plays, the Panthers had nothing that looked like a sack. Remember Bridgewater-Raritan returned its entire starting front eight of its 4/4 or 5/3 defense, including powerhouse senior linebackers Justin Bryant and Chike Nwankwo.
None of them so much as mussed Stagaard’s hair.
“I felt no pressure at all,” said Stagaard, who took advantage of time to throw by checking off his main target and finding junior wide receiver Ray Stem streaking down the seam for a 36-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter for a 7-0 Stateliner lead. Duffy called the fact that Phillipsburg scored first critical – and it might not have happened without Stagaard having the time to check down.
After halftime, Duffy asked his offensive line to switch to its running mode – and the line tore open the Panther defense – again, remember, a veteran and talented defense – for junior Joe Green to run for over 125 yards in the half and three TDs. He ended up with 153 yards.
“That was all ground-and-pound,” Green said. “I love when we do that, I could do that all the time. I love my offensive line.”
Bryant and Nwankwo got a shot or two in, as fine linebackers who play hard every down will, but mostly they were blocked out by Phillipsburg or left grasping at Green’s cleats as the Stateliner junior cut back and danced through the Panther defense.
It was the Stateliners’ ability to advance the ball through the air and the ground that made them so effective, Green said.
“Things we did passing opened things up running in the second half,” he said. “It makes us better that we’re balanced.”
The Phillipsburg defensive line showed off balance, too. In the second half, the Stateliner front four quashed Bridgewater-Raritan’s run game (zero yards rushing before the final consolation series) while pounding on Panther quarterback Greg Verano, who was sacked four times, once for a critical safety by senior Jalen Boothman.
The result was one first down for the hosts in the second half before that final series.
“I think we were a little shaky in that first half,” Boothman said. “But we have great coaches and great schemes, and in the second half we showed how we could play against this team.”
With that very simple formula – linemen leading the way.
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.