BASKING RIDGE, NJ - Phillipbsurg made the most of beneficial field position and menaced Ridge with a persistent pass rush Friday night.
The visiting Stateliners knocked the Red Devils from the ranks of the undefeated with a 21-7 victory over Ridge before an overflow crowd. The victory gave Phillipsburg the championship of the Mid-State 38 Conference's Delaware Division.
Phillipsburg (7-1) took the lead on the first play of the second quarter and proceeded to wear Ridge (6-1) down, not with big, game-breaking plays, but with a relentlessly churning offense and a pass rush that was the best Ridge has faced this season.
When he was able to avoid the pressure and get his passes away, Ridge senior quarterback Wes Hudkins had one of his best passing performances of the season, completing 18 of 27 passes for 194 yards. But Phillipsburg sacked Hudkins five times--with for of those sacks coming after the Stateliners had established a lead.
Ridge had only trailed on two other occasions this season--in the first quarter of its opening night game against Hunterdon Central, and in the first quarter of last week's game against Watchung Hills. Friday night was the first time all season that the Red Devils faced a deficit after the first quarter.
The Red Devils had taken the game's opening kickoff and moved down the field like a championship team. Cameron Lloyd returned the kickoff 30 yards to the 36, and Ridge marched 64 yards in nine plays of diversified textbook Wing-T football, scoring on Hudkins' 9-yard pass to Jake Hoffman. Jake Beckman's extra point gave the Red Devils a 7-0 lead. Key plays in the drive were a 19-yard run by fullback Christian Sweeney to the Phillipsburg 45, and a 16-yard completion from Hudkins to Brendan Bell to the 25-yard line.
But once Phillipsburg seized superior field position after a short punt late in the first quarter, the Stateliners ended up playing with--and taking advantage of--a short field for the rest of the half. Both of their scoring drives in the opening half began in the same place: the Ridge 37-yard line.
Phillipsburg scored its first TD on a 30-yard run through the left guard hole by Bobby Coury with 3:17 left in the opening quarter, but P-burg missed the extra point (a botched snap turned a kick into a pass play), leaving Ridge with a 7-6 lead. After another short punt, Phillipsburg again needed just three plays to score, with Coury going 27 yards for a TD on a fullback dive on the first play of the second quarter. Quarterback Jack Staggard ran the two-point conversion in for a 14-7 Stateliner lead.
The Ridge defense didn't give up many big plays the rest of the way, and, in fact, limited Staggard to three completions in 13 passing attempts in the first half. But P-burg backs Coury and halfback Joe Green pounded away on the ground out of the I offense, frequently getting second-effort yardage by keeping their legs moving after the initial hit.
Phillipsburg's third and final TD drive also began in Ridge territory, at the 45 in the third quarter. Staggard capped the eight-play maneuver with a 7-yard TD pass to Sterling Walker-Sutton.
Christian Sweeney finished with 61 yards on 18 carries for Ridge. But, in another sign of the proficiency of P-burg's defensive line, three of Sweeney's carries went for negative yardage, and Phillipsburg adjusted to Ridge's midirection attack and held Sweeney to just nine yards on seven carries in the second half. Sweeney, who has 886 rushing yards this season, had been over 100 rushing yards in five of Ridge's first six games this season.
Ridge, still very much in contention for a Group 5 playoff berth, has another tough opponent at home next Friday, when Linden (7-1) visits.
P-BURG (7-1) 6 8 7 0 -- 21
RIDGE (6-1) 7 0 0 0 -- 7