UNION – After Friday night I bet teams will think twice about kicking the ball to or throwing a pass in the direction of Phillipsburg senior Manny Romero the rest of the season.
But returning a kickoff for a touchdown for the first time and coming up with two interceptions was just some of what Romero was able to accomplish in his team’s season-opener.
Romero, one of five team captains and a returning running back-defensive back, also ran for nine yards and then 13 yards to give Phillipsburg a couple of first downs on its first scoring drive.
Later in the second half he caught a screen pass on the left side of the field and then raced to the end zone to give the Stateliners a two-touchdown lead.
By game’s end host Union had enough of watching Phillipsburg’s No. 13 making gifted plays after plays on offense, defense and specials teams.
It was a special performance turned in by Romero that helped lead two-time defending North 2, Group 4 champion Phillipsburg to a commanding 33-12 triumph over Union Friday night at Cooke Memorial Field in Mid-State 38 Conference-Delaware Division football play.
Phillipsburg, owners of the most wins of any football team in New Jersey – now with 662 – is attempting this year to become the first team to win N2, G4 three years in a row since Union accomplished the feat in 1991, 1992 and 1993 – when there wasn’t a Group 5.
Union last won a sectional title in 1993. The Farmers were denied win No. 510 in their storied program.
Looking back it’s a bit difficult to believe that Union got out to a 9-0 lead and still looked in control with a 12-6 advantage.
Then Romero, of all things, dropped the ball.
Following a 24-yard field goal by lefty-kicking Union senior placekicker Davis Sobrosa that put the Farmers up by six with just under five minutes to go in the second quarter, Union appeared a bit confused on when it was actually going to kick the ball off.
Once the Farmers did it found Romero inside his 20. Romero dropped the kick, but was then quickly able to recover and pick the ball up. He then gained a burst of speed, found a hole in the middle of the field and then reached the right sideline where he sprinted all the way into the end zone untouched.
Phillipsburg went from a possible lost fumble on the play to tying the game for the first time and then taking the lead for good on Brendan Grube’s ensuing extra point kick.
“The ball slipped off my wet jersey when I tried to catch it,” Romero said. “After I picked it up I looked up and saw a big crease.
“I just tried to run as fast as I could. I got some good blocks.”
That play seemed to shift the momentum to Phillipsburg for the first time. The Stateliners then proceeded to never give it back to the Farmers.
“Plays like the one Manny made on special teams can sway games,” said fifth-year Phillipsburg head coach Ryan Ditze, who has guided the Stateliners to a 33-12 (.733) record so far during his tenure. “We work on special teams a lot in practice and it paid off there.”
Romero’s night included 27 yards rushing on five carries in the first half – he led all rushers at halftime – and eight for a total of 51.
He picked off two deep passes in the second half, both of them coming in the third quarter and against Union senior wide receiver Caleb Holden in single coverage.
In addition to the kickoff return, he also ran away down the left sideline with a 79-yard touchdown reception that put his team ahead by two scores for the first time.
“We got off to a slow start, but we proved that you have to play for four quarters and not just for two,” Romero said. “On the touchdown pass, the coaches called a good play and their linebacker wasn’t paying attention.
“In the second half we knew we just had to come out and play our game. We have a good team and all we needed to do was execute.”
Union, which played well against the run before giving up two costly touchdown passes in the second half, out-gained Phillipsburg the first two quarters by a 129-67 margin. Union rushed for 41 yards on 18 carries in the first and second quarters, while junior quarterback Justin Beckett completed six of eight passes for 78 yards and one touchdown to senior wide receiver Patrick Thomas.
Beckett completed his first six passes, with four of them going to Thomas for 26 yards. Thomas came down with a nice, two-handed catch against single coverage to score Union’s only touchdown. Holden had Union’s other two first-half receptions, which totaled 52 yards, one of them a 39-yard, over-the-shoulder reception that occurred on Union’s only touchdown drive.
Junior running back Al-Tariq Jones came close to breaking a few runs for Union. He gained 14 yards on six carries in the first half and then carried the ball seven times for 31 yards on Union’s second-to-last drive of the game.
Punts by Phillipsburg sophomore Tyrone Bowens in the third quarter to the Union 3 and then the Union 11 helped the Stateliners win a battle of field position that eventually led to them extending their one-point halftime advantage. Again, special teams played a big part in this Phillipsburg victory.
Playing quarterback in the first half for Phillipsburg was senior Zachary Ringhoff, who completed one of four passes for 15 yards and one interception by Union junior linebacker Bryce Wilson.
Unfortunately for the Farmers, Wilson’s interception return to the Phillipsburg 16 did not result in any points.
Playing quarterback in the second half for the Stateliners was junior Danny Fisher, who threw two touchdown passes.
“There was nothing to it really, we just had a little infusion with Danny going in there and he gave us a nice lift,” Ditze said.
NOTES: Phillipsburg has now won eight in a row dating back to last year.
Union junior linebacker Francis Okemezie had a sack on the first play of the game for an eight-yard loss.
Junior strong safety Garrett Boures, who ran in Phillipsburg’s first touchdown, had a first-quarter sack of Beckett for a nine-yard loss.
After Union went ahead 9-0, Holden had a touchdown-saving tackle of Romero on the ensuing kickoff, grabbing a hold of Romero’s jersey with one hand and bringing him down at the Phillipsburg 47 after a 37-yard return.
Right after Phillipsburg took its 13-12 lead, Union lost a fumble at the Phillipsburg 28, with Boures recovering.
Phillipsburg senior Voshaun Wilson came up with an interception in his own end zone right before the final whistle.
MID-STATE 38 CONFERENCE-DELAWARE DIVISION
Phillpsburg (1-0, 1-0) 0 13 6 14 – 33
Union (0-1, 0-1) 9 3 0 0 – 12
UNION – Safety, Phillipsburg punt attempt snapped out of end zone (U 2-0)
UNION – Patrick Thomas 6 pass from Justin Beckett,
Davis Sobrosa kick (U 9-0)
6 plays, 45 yards, 2:20 used
PHILLIPSBURG – Garrett Boures 2 run, kick failed (U 9-6)
10 plays, 53 yards, 4:00 used
UNION – FG David Sobrosa, 24 (U 12-6)
11 plays, from Union 32 to Phillipsburg 6, 6:43 used
PHILLIPSBURG – Manny Romero 82 kickoff return,
Brendan Grube kick (P 13-12)
PHILLIPSBURG – Yusef Shelton 28 pass from Danny Fisher,
kick failed (P 19-12)
4 plays, 33 yards, 2:18 used
PHILLIPSBURG – Manny Romero 79 pass from Danny Fisher,
Brendan Grube kick (P 26-12)
2 plays, 82 yards, 1:00 used
PHILLIPSBURG – Jaquan Jones 15 run, Brendan Grube kick (P 33-12)
5 plays, 52 yards, 2:17 used