UNION – On a night when one of the greatest touchdown passes in Union Farmers football history was called back because of a penalty, first-time visitor Phillipsburg – owners of the most wins of any school in New Jersey – rallied in the fourth quarter to come away with a 24-14 triumph Friday at Cooke Memorial Field.
The Stateliners scored the game’s final 14 points after Union led 14-10 going into the final 12 minutes. The first touchdown came after the refs admitted to blowing the whistle too early when Phillipsburg dropped a punt after signaling for a fair catch. The second one came after the Stateliners caused and recovered a Union offensive fumble at its own 36-yard line.
The biggest play of the game came on the first play of the fourth quarter. On second-and-16 from its own 17, Union went with a deep pass on the left side.
Senior signal-caller Diego Rios dropped back and let go of a pass that hit 6-3 senior wide receiver Travon Gravenhise in stride – perfectly over No. 17’s shoulder, with Gravenhise making a two-handed catch and beating the single coverage provided by Phillipsburg junior defensive back Anthony Guarino.
Gravenhise caught the ball at the 20 and then raced past Guarino and into the end zone for an 83-yard touchdown reception and six points. Union thought it just increased its lead to 20-10.
It was not to be.
The referee in the middle of the field called Union for a penalty near the line of scrimmage. He showed the Union sideline that one of its offensive lineman had used his hands illegally while trying to block a Phillipsburg defensive player.
The ref put his hand by his neck as if to say the lineman used his hands on the Phillipsburg player’s neck and forced it under the helmet.
To say the Union sideline and head coach Lou Grasso Jr. was livid would be an understatement.
Instead, Union was pushed back to its nine and did not get a first down. After punting the ball away, Phillipsburg scored the game-winning touchdown four plays later when senior quarterback Tyler Troxell completed a 36-yard touchdown pass to Guarino.
Phillipsburg added an insurance touchdown with 4:57 left when Troxell completed a five-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Randolph Custodio.
Union followed that possession by reaching the Phillipsburg one-yard line, but was pushed back because of penalties and could not score to cut the lead and then try an onsides kick.
At the time of the penalty that prevented the long touchdown pass, Union had five for 27 yards in the second half up until that point. Union was also flagged six times for 35 yards in the first half.
Phillipsburg – owners of state-leading 644 wins for a program that began in 1905 – improved to 4-0 overall and 4-0 in the Delaware Division of the Mid-State 38 Conference. Hunterdon Central also improved to 4-0 overall and 4-0 in the Delaware after whipping Westfield 34-7 at home Friday night.
Union, which will play at Westfield next Saturday at 1 p.m., fell to 1-2 overall and 1-2 in the Delaware. The Farmers remain with 498 wins for a program that dates back to 1922. Westfield, which has a total of 587 wins, is now 2-2 overall and 2-2 in the Delaware.
Phillipsburg evened its regular season series record with Union at 1-1. Union won at Phillipsburg 24-21 last year in Delaware Division action. The Stateliners also defeated the visiting Farmers in the 2005 (56-14) and 2006 (42-20) North 2, Group 4 semifinals.
Phillipsburg made a field goal of 25 yards and Union missed one of 25 yards – wide right – in the first quarter. The first Stateliner touchdown, a seven-yard pass from Troxell to junior running back Joe Maso, came on fourth-and-goal from the Union 7 when Phillipsburg was in field goal formation. Troxell, the holder, kept the ball, rolled right, and hit Maso at the goal line.
Maso carried eight times for 24 yards in the first half. It was disclosed at halftime that he would not return after suffering a separated shoulder. He also caught three passes for 43 yards and one touchdown.
Union senior running back Jabree Robertson, on a counter, scored on a 33-yard run in the third quarter to give Union its only lead.
Rios hit senior TJ Adams, just inserted this week as a wide receiver, with a 14-yard touchdown pass for Union’s first points, which came in the second quarter.
Union senior running back Jamauri Bogan was limited to 36 yards on nine carries in the first half. Before Union’s last drive in the fourth quarter, Bogan had only one yard on four carries in the second half.
Troxell completed seven-of-12 passes for 134 yards in the first half, including a 69-yard pass to Custodio on the third play of the gamer.
Rios completed four of eight passes for 60 yards in the first half. He also completed a 55-yard pass to Gravenhise on Union’s third-quarter scoring drive.
Union failed to recover both of Phillipsburg’s first-half fumbles. The first one took place on the opening kickoff when Guarino lost the ball after catching the kickoff, but recovered it at his own eight-yard line. The second one happened during Phillipsburg’s third possession when Elijah Case lost the ball and then teammate Jack Donnelley recovered at the Phillipsburg 14.
Before Dagnone missed a 25-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter, the Phillipsburg band displayed poor sportsmanship – and got away with it – by blasting a tune right after the snap and just before Dagnone kicked the ball.
Phillipsburg senior defensive end Tyler Conlon caused the Rios fumble, with senior nose guard Kyle Boylan recovering it.
MID-STATE 38 CONFERENCE-DELAWARE DIVISION GAME
PHILLIPSBURG (4-0, 4-0) 3 7 0 14 – 24
UNION (1-2, 1-2) 0 7 7 0 – 14
PHILLIPSBURG – FG Ryan O’Dowd 25 (P 3-0)
8 plays, from own 8 to Union 7, 3:46 used
PHILLIPSBURG – Joe Maso 7 pass from Tyler Troxell,
Ryan O’Dowd kick (P 10-0)
12 plays, 80 yards, 5:08 used
UNION – TJ Adams 14 pass from Diego Rios, Lucas Dagnone kick (P 10-7)
10 plays, 62 yards, 6:18 used
UNION – Jabree Robertson 33 run, Lucas Dagnone kick (U 14-10)
5 plays, 62 yards, 1:35 used
PHILLIPSBURG – Anthony Guarino 36 pass from Tyler Troxell,
Ryan O’Dowd kick (P 17-14)
4 plays, 49 yards, 2:05 used
PHILLIPSBURG – Randolph Custodio 5 pass from Tyler Troxell, (P 24-14)
7 plays, 64 yards, 3:32 used