PHILLIPSBURG — The Phillipsburg and Thomas More Prep-Marian High School football coaches left the field after the Panthers’ 35-0 win over the Monarchs with a few things for their respective teams to improve upon before Week 2.
First-game nerves were on display throughout much of the first half in Friday night’s season opener.
TMP received the opening kick and and senior running back T.J. Flax found a seam near the far sideline and moved the Monarchs’ into Phillipsburg territory. A defensive pass interference call on third-and-14 moved starting quarterback Chase Romme and the Monarchs closer to the red zone.
After a TMP rusher was stopped in the backfield and Romme took a sack on second down, the Monarchs were again faced with a long third down. This time, Romme’s pass ended up in the hands of Phillipsburg freshman defensive back Trey Sides who returned it near midfield.
A bruising run by fullback Brock Means put the Panthers in threatening position on their opening drive, but a botched option play resulted in a fumble that TMP recovered.
The Monarchs’ second drive ended after a three-and-out and coach John Montgomery sent out his punt unit. The snap sailed high and into the end zone. TMP’s punter scooped up the loose ball and brought it out to the nine-yard line where Phillipsburg took over.
TMP’s defense kept the home team out of the end zone on the first three plays but couldn’t stop Means from punching it in on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard-line with 1:28 to play in the opening quarter.
The Monarchs again lined up to punt after failing to move the chains on the ensuing position. The long snap cleared the punter’s head a second time, and the Panthers took over 22 yards from the end zone.
While the special teams miscues put the Monarchs defense in tough spots, the TMP coach isn’t worried about the issue going forward.
“He’s a four-year long snapper,” Montgomery said. “Those are two fluke things. You go back to last year, he has one snap over the punter’s head. Tonight, unfortunately, it just happened,”
On the first play of the second quarter, Phillipsburg quarterback Kirk Coomes beat the Monarchs’ defense to the pylon to make it 14-0.
Although the Panthers — one of the top teams in Class 2-1A — had a two-possession lead a little more than 12 minutes into the game, their coach wasn’t impressed with his offense’s performance in the first half.
“The short field definitely helped us get in the end zone a few times,” Phillipsburg coach J.B. Covington said. “We squandered a couple of opportunities.”
Another first-down run from Flax and a personal foul on the Panthers’ defense allowed the Monarchs to control possession for a little longer on their fourth drive, but it ultimately ended with a punt. The third long snap was easily handled by the punter.
Sides took over at quarterback for the Panthers’ first full drive of the second quarter. Both of the Panthers’ second-quarter drives ended in failed conversion attempts on fourth down, while the Monarchs punted on their two remaining drives before the half.
The Panthers focused on playing more physical football during the break.
“At halftime, we decided that we needed to run the ball straight ahead and try to pound things before we attacked the perimeter,” Covington said.
The plan eventually worked, but the Monarchs battled and kept the host team scoreless throughout the opening quarter of the second half.
“We had a couple assignment breakdowns here and there, which is going to happen in the first game, but they came with a lot of grit and a lot of fire tonight,” Montgomery said. “At the end of the day, I can’t ask for much more out of them.”
Phillipsburg’s run game mixed power runs between the tackles and misdirection and option plays to the outside. After picking up first downs via the run on a third-and-8 and fourth-and-1 late in the third quarter, the Panthers finally cracked the TMP defense again on the first play of the fourth quarter. Similar to his touchdown run in the second quarter, Coomes beat the Monarchs’ defensel and dove into the front corner of the end zone.
Now trailing 21-0, the Monarchs were forced to play more aggressively. TMP’s first drive of the final quarter ended with an interception by Phillipsburg defensive back Trey Thompson.
The Panthers’ run game moved the ball into TMP territory, but for the second time Friday a fumbled nixed a promising scoring opportunity. Flax recovered the loose ball and advanced it to the Phillipsburg 26. Another interception by Thompson prevented the Monarchs from breaking the shutout.
“We were taking some shots, taking some chances,” Montgomery said. “Several of those interceptions, the ball got tipped up in the air, and they did a nice job swarming to the football.”
Mark Coomes made it 28-0 on the first play after the turnover, taking a misdirection run 62 yards to the house.
Another TMP fumble led to the game’s final score, a 10-yard run by Conner Weinman with 6:29 to play. The Phillipsburg coach said his line did a better job opening holes in the second half, while the TMP coach believes his defense had worn out after short offensive possessions kept the defense on the field for much of the final quarter.
The Monarchs head to Ellis for Week 2.
“As we look at the film, it’s going to be crispint up technique and looking for ways we can tweak our offense to take advantage of some of the talents we have,” Montgomery said.
In addition to improved conditioning, Covington wants to see his team take the field for its Week 2 rivalry game against Norton with a little more ferocity.
“I think some of us came out just expecting the ‘W’ because we beat them pretty good last year,” Weinman said. “I think we need to come out with our heads on and play some football.
“Norton’s a rivalry, so they always come with their ‘A’ game, so we definitely gotta show up.”
PB — Means 1 run (Moon kick).
PB — K. Coomes 15 run (Moon kick).
PB — K. Coomes 11 run (Moon kick).
7:31 M. Coomes 62 run. (Moon kick).
6:29 Weinman 10 run (Moon kick)