Phillipsburg earns win against TMP
By AUSTIN COLBERT
When Phillipsburg senior linebacker Grant Wickham returned a Thomas More Prep-Marian fumble for a touchdown with less than a minute to play in the first half on Friday, the game effectively ended.
TMP had no trouble hanging with undefeated Phillipsburg for the first 23 minutes, but Wickham's touchdown made it 27-7 at the half in favor of the Panthers.
The deflating play carried into the second half where Phillipsburg (6-0) went on to defeat TMP (1-5) handly, 56-7, at Lewis Field Stadium.
"Phillipsburg is an explosive team," TMP football coach John Montgomery said. "You could see their size and their speed and their athleticism on display quite often in the second half."
The Monarchs' troubles started well before kickoff when a rash of injuries caused some major changes in the depth chart. Running back Nick Schmidt, wide receiver Jeffrey Richmeier, linebacker Michael Schulte and kicker Jack You were all sidelined because of injuries or illness.
Despite the absences, TMP made it interesting for a while.
Phillipsburg struck quickly to open the game, a 59-yard touchdown run by senior running back Michael Dusin on the second play from scrimmage, making it 6-0 after a failed extra-point attempt.
The Panthers got the ball back following a TMP punt, and on the first play of that possession TMP's Ryan Mayorga intercepted a pass by Phillipsburg quarterback Riley Juenemann to give the ball over to the Monarchs at the Panthers' 15-yard line.
On fourth-and-9 from the 14-yard line, TMP quarterback Max Megaffin found Mayorga on a "lovely thrown ball" to the corner of the end zone for a touchdown.
TMP led Phillipsburg 7-6 after a quarter.
"It felt pretty good as the game went on, how we were keeping up with them, that we could match their intensity throughout the whole first quarter," said Mayorga, who finished with three catches for 41 yards. "They got a little more physical as the game went on and we couldn't match their intensity."
Juenemann hit junior Sam Sage for a 13-yard touchdown early in the second quarter, and Dusin added a 10-yard touchdown run late in the half to make it 20-7 in favor of the Panthers.
Phillipsburg was driving again when Mayorga got his second interception of the game, stepping in front of a Juenemann end zone pass to give the Monarchs the ball back with 49 secondsuntil half.
Two plays later Megaffin fumblef the football and Wickham returned the ball for a touchdown.
It was a big answer for a Phillipsburg team that was rattled by the start to the game.
"I think our guys were shell shocked a little bit. That was good for us. I was impressed with how TMP came out and played right off the bat," Phillipsburg coach J.B. Covington said. "They caught us off guard and tested our resilience a little bit. I think our kids responded to that.
"This is a close knit group of kids that we have and you could see them kind of feeding off each other, getting things turned around. It was good for our kids to have to fight through that," Covington added.
The Panthers forced TMP into a quick three and out to start the second half, and followed it with a five play, 63-yard drive, which resulted in a 17-yard touchdown pass from Juenemann to wide receiver Hunter Kohler.
Another three-and-out followed for TMP and a good punt return set Phillipsburg up with a short field. It took one play for Wickham to run the remaining 36 yards to the end zone to give the Panthers a 41-7 lead.
"We tell the kids all the time that we got guys that are capable of busting one at any time," Covington said. "Offensively, we were shaky at times, even in the second half, but I think we got it going a little bit toward the end."
Phillipsburg added two more scores in the fourth quarter, a 51-yard punt return by Dusin and a 56-yard run by Stuart Lennemann when most of the backups were in.
Dusin led all players with 106 yards rushing on 11 carries, and Phillipsburg collected 362 rushing yards as a team. TMP was held to only 20 yards on the ground.
Even with the lopsided final score, TMP feels there is a lot it can take out of this game, most notably its strong first-half performance, as the team heads into district play next week against Russell.
"I hate to lose, but there are positives we can see from this game," Montgomery said. "Certainly the play in the first quarter and the second quarter was tremendous on both sides. We look to just build upon that as we look to get ready for next week."