BRIDGEWATER, NJ – Returning home to Basilone Field for the first time in a month, and coming off of a 33-14 loss at Franklin, the Panthers of Bridgewater-Raritan got off to a quick start against undefeated Phillipsburg.

But a quick scoring burst by the Stateliners and a pair of critical stops deep in their own territory propelled the visitors in Week 5.

Bridgewater-Raritan (2-3) took control of the contest early, jumping out to a 13-0 lead halfway into the second quarter courtesy of a pair of rushing touchdowns by Panthers quarterback Alex Fromberg and Gerard Redden. A 29-yard touchdown pass by quarterback Ben Ries of Phillipsburg (5-0) to Ray Poremba in the final minute of the first half put the Stateliners on the board, swinging the momentum in their favor going into the locker room.

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They scored two touchdowns in a span of 3:55 in the middle of the third period on runs by Matthew Quetel and Reis to cap off a stretch of 20 unanswered points to take the lead against Bridgewater-Raritan before the Panthers appeared to regain momentum in the contest. A pair of fourth-quarter stops inside of the 5-yard line by Phillipsburg’s defense, including in the end zone with one second to go in regulation, kept the Panthers off the scoreboard the rest of the way. As a result, Phillipsburg hung on late for a 20-13 win against Bridgewater-Raritan to remain undefeated.

FIRST QUARTER
Stateliners 0, Panthers 7

Phillipsburg received the game’s opening kickoff at its own 21 after Bridgewater-Raritan won the coin toss and elected to defer kickoff to the second half. The Stateliners were stuffed on three straight plays to result in a three and out for the Panthers’ defense, but Bridgewater-Raritan also went three and out on its opening possession. A bobbled punt by Phillipsburg on the ensuing punt by the Panthers appeared to head into the end zone for a safety, but the Stateliners recovered the ball just inside its own 1-yard line with 8:46 left in the period.

The Stateliners got a pair of first downs courtesy of running back Matthew Quetel’s run of three yards, and one more of 9 yards on 3rd and 5 to put the ball at Phillipsburg’s 27 with 5:36 left in the period. After running three minutes off the clock and grinding out 26 yards in this timespan, Phillipsburg quarterback Ben Ries exceeded that in a couple of plays over the course of the next minute. Back-to-back keepers for the Statelines quarterback of 13 and 17 yards for two more first downs moved Phillipsburg to the Panthers 36 and into Bridgewater-Raritan territory for the first time of the night.

But their stay did not last very long.

On the very next play, Bridgewater-Raritan’s Nick Vizzoni intercepted a deep pass by Ries, literally flipping the field by returning the ball all the way to the Stateliners 24 with 4:07 left in the opening period.

Two-and-a-half minutes later, Bridgewater-Raritan took advantage of Phillipsburg’s turnover with a pair of red zone first downs, and a 1-yard touchdown run by Panthers quarterback Alex Fromberg to open the game’s scoring.

As a result of the senior’s touchdown run, Bridgewater-Raritan took a 7-0 lead with 1:37 left in the quarter.

A three-and-out by the Panthers defense as time expired in the opening period was the icing on the cake for a great start by the home team, giving Bridgewater-Raritan a 7-0 lead against the Stateliners after the game’s first 12 minutes.

SECOND QUARTER
Stateliners 7, Panthers 13

Bridgewater-Raritan opened up the 2nd quarter in Phillipsburg territory after a short punt by the Stateliners. Starting at the Stateliners 47, a 9-yard run from Fromberg for a first down and a 12-yard pass to fellow senior Tyler Tangolics put Bridgewater-Raritan at the 24-yard line and halfway toward the end zone in just under two minutes. The Panthers were stuffed on the next three plays, but a 4th and long pass for 18 yards from Fromberg to Vizzoni, who had the interception earlier for Bridgewater-Raritan, moved the chains to bring up 1st and goal from the 4-yard line with 6:35 left in the half.

The Stateliners kept the Panthers out of the end zone on three straight plays, but the fourth time was a charm for Bridgewater-Raritan, as Panthers senior Gerard Redden punched it in with a touchdown run on 4th and goal from the 1 with 5:12 to go in the half. While Phillipsburg blocked the resulting extra point attempt, the Panthers extended their lead over the Stateliners to 13-0.

And in their first home game since their 16-15 season-opening win against Colonia, Bridgewater-Raritan certainly made their much anticipated return to Basilone Field worth the wait.

But the visiting Stateliners of Phillipsburg had other plans in mind.

While Bridgewater-Raritan’s Mickey Wasko blocked a Phillipsburg punt to give the Panthers the ball back at the Stateliners 27 with 2:45 left in the half, the home team got no further on the ensuing drive. Phillipsburg instead forced a turnover on downs to take over at the same spot a minute later, and momentum began to shift toward the visiting team.

Stateliners quarterback Ben Ries got his offense going with passes of 16 and 12 yards to Bobby Coury and Tommy Coury, respectively, quickly advancing Phillipsburg into Panthers territory with just over a minute left in the half. A 16-yard carry by Quetel for a first down put the Stateliners at the Panthers 29, and, following a timeout by Phillipsburg on 3rd and 9 with under a minute left in the half, the visitors went the remaining distance in one play.

Ries tossed a 29-yard touchdown rainbow pass in tight one-on-one coverage to 6’ 3” Phillipsburg tight end Ray Poremba, who reached up over his head to make the tough catch just before crossing the goal line.

After the extra point with 36 seconds to go in the half, Bridgewater-Raritan’s lead was cut to 13-7. This was the score as both teams went into the locker room, but despite the late scoring drive by Phillipsburg, Bridgewater-Raritan was in a good spot up one score at the break and in line to receive the second-half kickoff.

THIRD QUARTER
Stateliners 20, Panthers 13

Bridgewater-Raritan seemed to bounce back quickly after starting at its own 20 and moving the chains after the Phillipsburg defense jumped offsides on 3rd down. The Panthers got no further to open the 3rd quarter, and the Stateliners took over with good field position on their own 47 three minutes into the period.

Phillipsburg picked up right where it left off following its prior scoring drive, with Quetel getting it done on the ground with a 20-yard run right out of the gate. After a 9-yard keeper on the ground by Ries, Quetel got into the end zone with a 16-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 13-13 with 6:55 left in the 3rd quarter. Just like the Stateliners did one quarter earlier, the Panthers blocked the extra point attempt to keep the game knotted up at Basilone Field.

After going three-and-out on their ensuing drive and a punt that appeared to set up Phillipsburg just inside Panthers territory, the ball took a Stateliners bounce all the way to the Panthers 17 with 5:03 left in the period. Phillipsburg’s one-two punch of Ries and Quetel took advantage of the very short field, with both getting it done on the ground and getting into the end zone in five plays.

What ended up being a 2-yard touchdown run by Ries two minutes into the drive gave the Stateliners their first lead of the night. The successful extra point attempt capped off a burst of 20 unanswered points in 9:31 for Phillipsburg, and Bridgewater-Raritan found itself trailing 20-13 in front of a now stunned home crowd with 3:05 left in the period.

Even that did not seem to rattle the Panthers, who started their next drive at their own 40 after Phillipsburg’s kickoff sailed out of bounds. A pair of first-down runs of 11 yards and 10 yards by Fromberg and Brett MacMath moved the Panthers to the Stateliners 34, but Phillipsburg’s defense held the home team to one yard in the next three plays as the third quarter came to a close at Basilone Field.

The Panthers trailed 20-13 and faced a 4th and 9 from the Stateliners 33.

FOURTH QUARTER
Stateliners 20, Panthers 13

But needing a late spark, the Panthers went for it and converted on 4th and long.

Bridgewater-Raritan’s Miftar Hasanaj kept the drive alive with a 10-yard catch from Fromberg to open the final period, and another 4th-down conversion on a 1-yard run by Fromberg advanced the Panthers to the Stateliners 13 with 9:55 to go. A few more runs by Bridgewater-Raritan appeared to set up another 4th down play inside of the 10 yard line, but a critical sideline violation on Phillipsburg moved the chains to set up 1st and goal from the 4-yard line.

That did not stop the Stateliners from clinging to its lead.

Phillipsburg’s defense stuffed Bridgewater-Raritan on four straight plays, including a goal line stand at the 1-yard line on 4th down to force a turnover on downs with 5:30 to go. The Stateliners’ offense barely converted a 3rd down to advance to the 12-yard line just over two minutes later, but Bridgewater-Raritan called timeout with Phillipsburg facing a 3rd and 6 from its own 16 with 2:27 to go. An incomplete pass by Ries stopped the clock yet again to force a Phillipsburg punt, and a great return by the home team put Bridgewater-Raritan at the Stateliners 35 with plenty of time remaining.

Trailing 20-13 with 2:15 to go and needing to go 35 yards for at least the tying score, things did not go well for the Panthers to start the ensuing drive.

They instead were driven backwards by Phillipsburg’s defense on back-to-back plays, and faced a 4th and 22 at the Stateliners 47 with 1:15 to go. Needing a long first down to stay alive, the Panthers found themselves in a similar late-game situation the last time they were home at Basilone Field one month earlier. On Sept. 6th, Fromberg needed to convert a 4th and 12 pass with just over a minute to go while trailing by two against Colonia, and he successfully did so to extend the drive that eventually resulted in Bridgewater-Raritan’s game-winning field goal.

In other words, the senior quarterback had been in this situation before.

With ice flowing in his veins and seeming calm as ever in the pocket, Fromberg tossed a dart up the middle to Hasanaj in a play eerily similar to the aforementioned 4th down play against Colonia one month earlier. Against Phillipsburg, the resulting 26-yard reception by Hasanaj moved the chains with 1:11 to go the bring up 1st and 10 from the Stateliners 21.

And so the stage was yet again set for a wild, storybook finish by Bridgewater-Raritan for the second time in as many home games in 2019.

A 10-yard pass from Fromberg to MacMath plus another encroachment penalty by Phillipsburg resulted in a 1st and goal from the 5-yard line for Bridgewater-Raritan with under 30 seconds to go. The Panthers got stuffed for no gain to force Fromberg to spike the ball at the same spot with nine seconds to go facing 3rd and goal. Having two chances to get into the end zone, Fromberg’s first pass fell incomplete to bring up 4th down with six seconds to play and Phillipsburg clinging to a 20-13 lead.

Unfortunately, it was a heartbreaking ending at Basilone Field this time for the home team.

Bridgewater-Raritan turned the ball over on downs despite a valiant final crack at the top left corner of the end zone, which barely was ruled incomplete, to seal the deal for the Stateliners.

With one second to go, Phillipsburg ran out the clock on the game’s final play to remain undefeated and hand Bridgewater-Raritan a tough 20-13 home loss.

NEXT UP:

Despite advancing to Phillipsburg territory three times after jumping out to an early 13-0 lead, the Stateliners defense deep inside its own territory was the difference in Week 5.

Two of these three drives for Bridgewater-Raritan occurred in the final 5:30 of regulation, with one ending in a goal line stand for Phillipsburg, and the other ending with an incomplete pass in the end zone with one second remaining. As a result, Bridgewater-Raritan was held scoreless in the final 29:12 of regulation, and Phillipsburg’s 20 unanswered points in a span of 9:31 put the visitors ahead for good despite no further points from either team after that.

With the loss, Bridgewater-Raritan fell to 2-3, while undefeated Phillipsburg improved to 5-0 with the victory.

The Panthers will look to bounce back next week at Hunderton Central, which will be their final road game of the 2019 regular season. Kickoff at the Red Devils will be at 7 p.m. at Hunderton Central High School Oct. 11.

Following this away contest, all three of the Panthers’ final regular season games (Westfield 10/18, Union 10/25, Woodbridge 11/1) will be home games at Basilone Field.

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