North Jersey Section 2, Group IV Championship Preview
NORTH JERSEY SECTION 2, GROUP IV CHAMPIONSHIP
Saturday at 7 p.m. at MetLife Stadium
(1) Middletown South (11-0) vs. (2) Phillipsburg (9-2)
Middletown South offensive stat leaders; Defense: Dylan Rogers, Sr., LB, 117 tackles, 21 TFL, 7 sacks; James McCarthy, Jr., LB, 76 tackles, 14 TFL, 5 sacks, 3 INT; Kevin Higgins, Jr., LB, 53 tackles; Jake Krellin, So., DE, 64 tackles, 22 TFL, 6 sacks; Maxx Imsho, Jr., DB, 46 tackles, 7 INT; Tom Coffey, Sr., DB, 6 INT.
Middletown South's best wins: 41-21 over Central Jersey Group V finalist South Brunswick; 21-3 over Central Jersey Group IV finalist Brick Memorial.
Phillipsburg's best wins: 31-0 over Elizabeth; 28-13 over Colonia in the semifinals.
Middletown South keys to the game:
1. Win the field position battle
Middletown South has allowed just 7.4 points per game this season while recording four shutouts, and no team outside of South Brunswick for one and a half quarters in the season-opener has been able to consistently move the ball on the Eagles. Phillipsburg runs a smash-mouth, double-tight end, power-running offense that tries to win the battle in the trenches and grind teams out. If the Stateliners have to constantly face going 70 or 80 yards to get to the end zone it will put them in a difficult situation. Junior quarterback Danny Fisher has thrown for 686 yards but only completes 37 percent of his passes. They have some big-play capability with senior Manny Romero averaging over 31 yards per catch, but banking on those against Middletown South's defense isn't a good plan. Matt Mosquera can be huge here because he is an excellent punter and has 15 touchbacks out of 25 kickoffs.
2. Put Phillipsburg in obvious passing situations
As stated above, Phillipsburg is going to try to establish the run and won't deviate from that gameplan easily. Junior Jaquan Jones and Romero are Phillipsburg's best offense players, and have almost identical stats. Middletown South's defensive line has a penchant for dropping ball carries in the backfield, and its outstanding group of linebackers play sideline to sideline. The matchups seems tailor-made for the Eagles, but they still have to execute. Teams that like to throw the ball have been given fits over the years by Al Bigos' defense, and Phillipsburg would prefer not to have to go to the air. If Middletown South has the chance to unleash Dylan Rogers and James McCarthy on blitzes it will be a long night for the Stateliners' offense. The Eagles also have two of the top defensive backs in the Shore in Maxx Imsho and Tom Coffey, who have combined for 13 interceptions.
3. Get an early lead
If Middletown South can get on the board early and play with a lead, it seems almost impossible Phillipsburg would be able to overtake the Eagles. The Eagles can score in a variety of ways, but it's their running game led by Cole Rogers that sets the tone. If he starts strong it will open up the rest of their offense. South also runs a high-tempo offense that routinely snaps the ball just seconds after the official has spotted it, and that will put great pressure on Phillipsburg to get properly aligned. If Middletown South can settle in with a first-quarter lead and let its defense do its thing, it will likely be hoisting its 10th championship trophy.
4. Hit two big plays in the passing game
With Phillipsburg selling out to stop the run, Mosquera can make them pay with shots down the field. Middletown South's top-five receivers all average at least 16 yards per catch with Coffey and juniors Jeff Lewandowski and Jeremy Joyce averaging over 20 yard per reception. All five have catches of over 50 yards this season. When the Eagles go long they usually connect, and that can be deflating to teams. Mosquera won't need to throw it all over the place, but a couple of well-timed big gains could make the difference.
5. Stick to the script
Middletown South is the No. 1 team in New Jersey for a reason, well, for many reasons actually. The Eagles are a complete team that excels on offense, defense and special team, and has an elite coaching staff led by Steve Antonucci. Phillipsburg is a long and storied program that has won seven sectional titles and is also the defending champion, so the Stateliners are no pushover. That being said, this is the Eagles' title to win. If they can avoid costly turnovers and penalties they should finish off a perfect season.
Have to stop: Phillipsburg's running game
If Middletown South can shut down Phillipsburg on the ground it will win, plain and simple. You know what you're going to get against the Stateliners; they're going to line up and try to out-muscle the Eagles up front and control the clock. Whoever wins that battle will likely win the game.
Underrated player: Jake Krellin, So., DE
Krellin has been a beast in his first year as a starter with 64 tackles, including 22 for loss, and 6 sacks. Middletown South's ability to control the line of scrimmage will be crucial, and if Krellin can get hits for a loss as he's done plenty of times this year it will go a long way toward winning the battle up front. At the least, Krellin can help force plays inside where Rogers, McCarthy and Higgins can clean up.
X-factor: Matt Mosquera, Sr., QB/K/P
Mosquera has been an efficient passer this year and is one of the tri-state's best kickers. He has range out to 50 yards and is a field-position weapon as a punter. If the Eagles' run games gets bogged down he has the ability to ignite the offense through the air. If the game is tight late Middletown South can rely on him to connect on a clutch field goal.
Notes: Middletown South is looking for its 10th sectional title and first since 2006...The Eagles are playing in the finals for the 12th time in the last 15 seasons...Middletown South is 0-5 in its last five state final appearances...Phillipsburg is the defending champion and has won seven titles in 12 appearances...Middletown South's nine state titles are second-most in Shore Conference history behind the 11 won by Manasquan...Middletown South is the last public school to finish No. 1 in the state, which it did in 2005, and can do it again with a win on Saturday night...Cole Rogers has rushed for over 100 yards in all but one game this season, and has rushed for 366 yards and seven touchdowns in the playoffs.