It’s a good thing the football team Nick Josselyn plays for is having a whole lot better season than the one he roots for.
The two will come together Saturday when Josselyn, Phillipsburg’s senior defensive tackle, leads the Stateliners against North Hunterdon in the NJSIAA North 2 Group 4 championship game Saturday at 1 p.m. at MetLife Stadium, the home of Josselyn’s New York Giants. (The game will be live-streamed on lehighvalleylive,com.)
“I am excited to play there,” said Josselyn, a life-long Giants fan. “You have to enjoy the moment. This has been a tough year for the Giants (2-9) but I think we’ll bounce back next year.”
Bouncing back may be the key for then Stateliners (10-1) against the Lions (10-1). North Hunterdon will have enjoyed a couple of weeks off since its sectional semifinal defeat of Sayreville, a confidence-boosting win followed by some recharging time and rest.
Phillipsburg, meanwhile, is coming off a real downer of a defeat, 21-14 to Easton, in what the Stateliners see as their No. 1 game of the season, on Thanksgiving Day. It was a game Phillipsburg led early and probably thought they should have won.
It’s hard, in fact, to convey to outsiders just how important the Easton game is to Phillipsburg. It’s hard to put into words because the feelings don’t lend themselves to language. It’s better to look in the Stateliners’ faces to see what Easton means; the faces tell a better story than words can.
This is a game where players will post apologies to their town and community that they didn’t get it done on social media. Thanksgiving to the Stateliners without a win over Easton is like Thanksgiving without a turkey. And stuffing. And mashed potatoes. And pumpkin pie.
The Easton loss, in short, is one that could linger for a long time, the kind of defeat whose dread hands could reach for weeks ahead in the hearts and minds of the players.
Phillipsburg cannot afford such a hangover. It will take a top-shelf performance to top North Hunterdon, just as the Stateliners turned in in their 20-7 defeat of the Lions Oct. 27.
There are reasons, however, to think Phillipsburg will, indeed, come back and be ready to go Saturday.
“Of course losing to Easton hurt right after the game, but we seem to be back to how we usually are,” Josselyn said. “We talked to each other over the weekend (the Stateliners did not practice) and we hung out with each other, and we’re ready to leave Easton in the past. We’re ready, and we’re thankful to have another game to play.”
And there are plenty of examples of Phillipsburg coming off a loss to Easton and winning a state game. It happened in 2008 and 2009 under Bob Stem, and in 2013 as well under head coach Ryan Ditze, now an assistant under Frank Duffy.
Perhaps the top example of such a bounce-back from a disappointing Thanksgiving came in 2001, when the Stateliners knocked off unbeaten Montclair, ranked No. 2 in the state. Duffy played on that team.
“That’s an experience I can offer our team,” Duffy said.
In Josselyn’s case, individually, he does not need to bounce back from Easton as much as just keep going forward. He played a dominant game from his defensive tackle slot, with 13 tackles, 2 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss, and was awarded the Easton Lions Club trophy as the game’s defensive Most Valuable Player.
Typically for a Stateliner, Josselyn is uncomfortable speaking of individual accomplishments.
“I had a lot of help,” he said.
That may well be, but such a dominant and physical display as Josselyn showed on Thanksgiving is just what Phillipsburg will need against the Lions’ versatile and explosive offense. If Josselyn can dominate the line of scrimmage, and, especially, get an interior pass rush on North Hunterdon senior quarterback Matt Busher, who has thrown for over 2,000 yards, the Stateliners will be a long towards their eighth sectional crown.
And speaking of quarterbacks, Josselyn has a message for John Mara and Ben McAdoo.
“I think I’d have kept Eli,” said Josselyn, referring to the now-benched Eli Manning.
It must be a frustrating fall to be a Giants fan, but Nick Josselyn and his teammate can make it a memorable one to be a Stateliner fan with a win on Saturday.
Brad Wilson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.