A year ago, Phillipsburg was undefeated heading into the North 2, Group 5 semifinals against West Orange. The Stateliners lost, but beat Easton on Thanksgiving, and all was right with the world.
West Orange was the better team that night, but to a (young) man, the singular goal of any Phillipsburg season is a win over arch-rival Easton. Last year was their first since 2014.
That behind them, and with another chance ahead this year, head coach Frank Duffy says it’s not a distraction, and really never has been.
Good thing, because the top-seeded Stateliners (8-1) must take on pesky fourth-seed Westfield (5-4) Friday night. The Blue Devils may have been just .500 entering the playoffs, but shutout Hillsborough 17-0 on Cutoff Weekend, a team that got the second-seed in South Group 5. Then they whitewashed Clifton 36-0 in the opening round of the playoffs last week.
For Duffy, the main target will be Max Cho, the Blue Devil quarterback who has thrown 12 touchdowns and just one pick while tossing it around the yard for 1,300 this season. The Stateliners, meanwhile, have picked off 13 passes this year, with Kevin Burgess and Felix Matos each responsible for three.
The Stateliners have had a number of guys get nicked up in recent weeks, including runningback/linebacker John Wargo, who is healthy and expected to play against Westfield.
Being an all-Big Central Conference matchup, it’s guaranteed at least one league team will play for a title next weekend. The winner takes on the victor of Friday night’s other semifinal between 2nd-seed Union City (8-1) and – lo and behold – sixth seed West Orange (5-4), the same Mountaineers who knocked them off in last year’s title game.
Click below to hear Phillipsburg head coach Frank Duffy talk about the Stateliners and their semifinal matchup with Westfield: