A back-and-forth backyard football brawl like Phillipsburg’s 28-14 defeat of Hunterdon Central Friday night in a Mid-State 38 Delaware Division game -- a game that really played out closer than the score showed -- will turn on some truly memorable moments.
They can be hard to sort out, especially in a contest played out in a frenzied, SRO atmosphere such as Central’s Stewart Field, a terrific place to watch scholastic football and one that was rocking Friday night. Sometimes a play that looks enormous at the time doesn’t wind up making a difference. And sometimes what seems a small matter changes the whole game,
After further review, here’s the 19 plays we saw making the biggest difference for the Stateliners and Red Devils. They appear in chronological order.
1. The fourth down
The situation: Phillipsburg facing 4th and 1 at Hunterdon Central 39, 1st quarter, no score
The play: The Stateliners turned to senior running back Joe Green to keep the drive alive and he plunged for four tough yards. P’burg’s offensive line laid down a marker on this play, as did Green, who pushed the pile.
2. Passing for 6
The situation: Phillipsburg facing 2nd and goal at Hunterdon Central 10, 1st quarter, no score.
The play: Stateliner senior tight end/cornerback Sterling Walker-Sutton made the first of his several substantial contributions to his team’s win when he caught a pass over the middle from senior quarterback Jack Stagaard (14-for-25, 138 yards) and powered into the end zone.
3. Early stop
The situation: Hunterdon Central facing 3rd and 3 at its own 29, 1st quarter, 7-0 Phillipsburg
The play: The Red Devils’ outstanding junior tailback, Will Ezema (55 yards rushing, 71 receiving), is dropped for no gain by senior defensive lineman Luke Evers and the Red Devils, denied early momentum, have to punt.
4. Quick big strike
The situation: Hunterdon Central facing 3rd and 6 at its own 24, 2nd quartrer, 7-0 Phillipsburg
The play: Phillipsburg puts an excellent rush on Red Devil senior quarterback Clayton Lancaster and flushes him out of the pocket to his right. It looks as if Lancaster, a skilled scrambler, will run for the first down. The Stateliners then commit to coming up and stopping Lancaster, but in doing so lose track of senior wide receiver Benjamin Kenyon. Kenyon comes back to help Lancaster, makes the catch, turns and goes 76 yards to tie the game.
5. Fast reponse
The situation: Hunterdon Central kicking off, 2nd quarter, game tied at 7
The play: Phillipsburg’s Nasir Ball returns the kickoff 91 weaving, dodging and exhilarating yards, being run down by the Red Devils at their 4-yard-line. It’s the second time in two weeks Ball has posted a 90-or-more-yards kickoff return.
6. No. 1 for Green
The situation: Phillipsburg facing 1st and goal at the Hunterdon Central 4, 2nd quarter, game tied at 7
The play: Green bulls through the middle for his first touchdown of the game and a 14-7 Phillipsburg lead. Once again, the ease of the run lays down a marker.
7. Screen success
The situation: Hunterdon Central facing 1st and 10 from its own 24, 2nd quarter, 14-7 Phillipsburg
The play: Central wants to get Ezema in space -- and they sure do, with a little pass in the flat going 49 yards before Walker-Sutton saves a touchdown, but only for 2 plays when Ezema bolts in on a counter play for a 10-yard TD run to the tie the game at 14.
8. Ill-timed flag
The situation: Hunterdon Central facing 1st and 10 at the Phillipsburg 35, 2nd quarter, game tied at 14
The play: The hosts have just rattled off three straight first downs, and Ezema goes for a nice 6-yard burst on first down, but the Red Devils are flagged for dead-ball unsportsmanlike conduct and marched back to the Stateliner 44. The home crowd thought the penalty should have been on Phillipsburg and let the referee know of their differing opinion in full voice. Had the infraction been on the Stateliners, the game may well have been very different. And it was Hunterdon Central's only penalty of the game. Ouch.
9. No-go screen
The situation: Hunterdon Central facing 3rd and 19 at the Phillipsburg 44, 2nd quarter, game tied at 14.
The play: The Red Devils tried that little screen to get a man in space again, this time with senior scatback Terence Murphy. But this time Stateliner senior Isaiah Craighead read it perfectly and buried Murphy for no gain, forcing a punt.
10. Disaster dodged
The situation: Phillipsburg facing 4th and 11 at its own 31, 2nd quarter, game tied at 14
The play: With the visitors punting after almost losing a fumble, the huge Stateliner fan section gasps in dismay as the snap sails over junior punter Michael Gomez’s head. Showing coolness, athleticism and some moxie, Gomez, inside his own 15 and fleeing from a clutch of ball-hungry Red Devils, rolls to his left after gathering the ball and gets a punt off to the Stateliner 40. A 9-yard punt has perhaps never meant more -- give the Central the ball at the P’burg 10, say, with plenty of time (1:19) and the game looks very, very different.
11. Half-ending sack
The situation: Hunterdon Central facing 3rd and 10 at the Phillipsburg 31, 2nd quarter, game tied at 14
The play: Lancaster, trying to scramble, is sacked by Stateliner seniors Khyree Wallace and and Jeff Vitale. There were still 20 seconds to play but Central, moving strangely slowly, couldn’t get a play off so the sack ended the half. It also showed how big Gomez getting that punt off was -- golden chance for the Red Devils, no points.
12. Sure-hands conversion
The situation: Phillipsburg facing 3rd and 17 at its own 49, 3rd quarter, game tied at 14
The play: Put behind the chains by a holding penalty, Phillipsburg desperately needed a conversion to keep the second half’s opening drive alive. The Stateliners got one when Stagaard found senior wide receiver Ray Stem in traffic over the middle for a 19-yard gain.
13. No. 2 for Green
The situation: Phillipsburg facing 2nd and 8 at the Hunterdon Central 18, 3rd quarter, game tied at 14
The play: Green took a routine handoff up the gut, broke a tackle, pulled off a crisp spin move, did a little hip shake, and gave P’burg the lead for good.
14. Zgoda times 2
The situation: Hunterdon Central facing 2nd and 2, then 3rd and 7, at its own 33 and 28, 3rd quarter, 21-14 Phillipsburg
The play(s): The Red Devils, seeking a quick answer for the go-ahead score, ran smack into Stateliner senior middle linenbacker Mark Zgoda. On second and short, he broke through and dropped Ezema for a five-yard loss. On third down, he sacked Lancaster and forced a punt. These plays define clutch defense.
15. All 11 in
The situation: Phillipsburg facing 4th and 12 at its own 39, 3rd quarter, 21-14 Phillipsburg
The play: Hunterdon Central, perhaps feeling some momentum from forcing a 3-and-out, sent all 11 players after a Gomez punt, leaving no return men back. But the Stateliners picked up the all-out rush well and Gomez, once again showing coolness under heat, delivered a 53-yard punt to bury the Red Devils at their 8-yard line.
16. No "Flemington special"
The situation: Hunterdon Central facing 3rd and 12 at its own 31, 4th quarter, 21-14 Phillipsburg
The play: The Red Devils tried a end-around option pass to Lancaster but it was underthrown by Robert Thornton and fell incomplete. A better pass and it would have been a first down, but maybe the play needs Nick Foles to work.
17. Leaving the lateral
The situation: Hunterdon Central facing 2nd and 10 at its own 31, 4th quarter, 21-14 Phillipsburg
The play: This was a hook-and-lateral from Lancaster to Thornton who lateraled to Kenyon on the Central sideline. The lateral would have gone for only a nominal gain, but it got even worse for the hosts when Walker-Sutton blasted Kenyon, forcing a fumble, and Tommy Coury recovered at the Red Devil 38.
18. No. 3 for Green
The situation: Phillipsburg facing 1st and 10 from the Hunterdon Central 22, 4th quarter, 21-14 Phillipsburg
The play: Green completes his hat trick of touchdowns with a 22-yard surge up the gut. He ended with 203 yards rushing on the night.
19. It's a wrap
The situation: Hunterdon Central facing 3rd and 6 at its own 39, 4th quarter, 28-14 Phillipsburg
The play: Walker-Sutton completes a terrific night with a game-sealing interception at the Stateliner 47, which he returns 39 yards.
Brad Wilson may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradwsports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.