Twin brothers Cole and Dylan Rogers were such compelling and consistent forces on opposite ends of the ball Saturday night that it raised the question as to whether they were playing against Phillipsburg or competing against one another.
But if the fiery performances of the Middletown South seniors did actually constitute a case of game-inside-the-game sibling rivalry, then Cole was the loser by his own admission. Though anyone who knows even just a little about this year's Eagles would know that losing in any shape or form is not something of which they're all that well-versed.
Cole Rogers rushed for a game-high 155 yards and scored two touchdowns on 27 carries and linebacker Dylan spent much of his time in the opponent's backfield, racking up 4.5 sacks and contributing on another 14 tackles to propel Middletown South to a 35-7 win over two-time defending champion Phillipsburg for the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 title at MetLife Stadium.
Middletown South, No. 2 in the MSG Varsity Tri-State Top 25, closed the season at 12-0 and claimed its first sectional crown since 2006 and its 10th overall. Phillipsburg (9-3) was seeking its fourth championship since 2009 and eighth overall, but confronted two constantly moving obstacles that just happened to share the same name -- one briskly moving away from the Stateliners' clutches and the other charging straight for them at 115 miles per hour.
"I've got to say Dylan won," Cole said. "I haven't seen anyone play like that in my entire life. Last year he had something like 25 tackles in the state game. This year he just got the job done."
Remember now that it was Cole -- not we -- who mentioned "the state game," meaning Middletown South's 21-18 loss to Jackson Memorial last year in the Central Jersey, Group 4 final. That game left the Eagles with a nasty taste in their mouth, but also a load of team-wide motivation that practically required an extra bus for the ride to the Meadowlands.
"We have a highlight tape from last year and there's a whole 20 minutes on the (loss to Jackson)," Dylan said. "I told everybody to go watch that and remember how bad and awful you felt. We've got to win, and we did."
It wasn't altogether clear in the first half whether the Eagles' offense was totally absorbed in the mission, fumbling twice and producing just over 100 yards of combined offense. But there was not a speck of doubt that the entire defense was fully committed to the task of dethroning the back-to-back champion.
"That's our backbone. That's always been our backbone," Middletown South coach Steve Antonucci said. "The kids played their rear ends off tonight.
"We came in here tonight against a good football team, a team that wants to run the football, and I thought we did a good job," he said.
James McCarthy had a hand in six tackles and came down with two interceptions and fellow junior linebacker Kevin Higgins was also in on six tackles. Sophomore end Jake Krellin, senior cornerback Robert Hulse and safety Maxx Imsho also turned in strong outings. It was, however, easy to overlook all of them at times with Dylan's No. 35 jersey constantly flying into view.
"I tried to get to the ball," Dylan said. "I messed up a few times, but I tried to just be swarming in on every play."
The Eagles' defense became the focus of the first half, though things did not start out that way.
Jeff Lewandowski -- one of the club's many talented non-seniors -- returned the opening kick 80 yards down the right to the Phillipsburg nine. Two plays later, Cole Rogers darted through a hole off left tackle for a 7-yard TD run just 47 seconds into the game. Senior Matt Mosquera, who is also the team's quarterback, added the PAT for a 7-0 lead and a huge jolt of confidence.
"In previous years here we fell behind," Antonucci said. "We got off to a good start and that's what we needed. We talked about it all week: Let's get momentum early and do what we need to do to get out of there."
Middletown South hoped to adhere to that advice, but lost it temporarily on the MetLife carpet following Rogers' TD run. The Eagles fumbled on their next two possessions, the second time at their own 38-yard line with exactly 4:00 left in the quarter.
But Phillipsburg earned only one yard combined on its next two carries, and then Dylan Rogers busted through the line for a 10-yard sack that created a fourth-and-14 with just over a minute left in the first quarter. Middletown South punted after three plays, but struck on its following possession with an eight-play, 55-yard move capped off by Mosquera's 28-yard pass to Jeremy Joyce with 8:44 to go in the half.
"We were a little sluggish here and there, made some mistakes early in the game," Antonucci said, "but at halftime we came out and did what we needed to do."
The first of McCarthy's two picks ended Phillipsburg's first series of the second half and set the stage for a four-play, 60-yard drive that was launched with a 20-yard run by Cole Rogers and completed with nine 9-yard run for a 21-0 lead with 8:24 to go in the quarter.
"The defense has so many stops in the first half, and I credit that with what we were able to do later," Cole Rogers said. "They always say defense wins championships, and they really pulled their weight today."
"Their" he said, as if his running was only a tiny part of the equation when summarizing the Eagles' ascent to the top of the section. But it's exactly that kind of selfless outlook that made this club such a close-knit, trusting group. It allowed the offense to stay patient when touchdowns weren't being collected with the usual pace in that opening half, and it's what made the offense keep plugging away despite some early disappointment.
"We have so much depth; anyone can play anywhere," Cole said. "If I got hurt, James McCarrthy is there. He could fill my shoes easily."
Mosquera scored on a 4-yard run to finish off a six-play, 30-yard move on Middletown South's second possession of the second half for a 28-0 lead with 10:28.
Gutty senior running back Manny Romero ran for 32 yards in the first half and ended with 84 yards on 16 attempts to lead Phillipsburg. He ended up taking over the QB role late in the game and provided the Stateliners with their only TD when he ran 14 yards off a play-action fake with 1:30 gone in the fourth quarter. Middletown South answered with a five-play, 57-yard march culminating with Tom Marron's 7-yard run with 8:50 to go.
Phillipsburg vs. Middletown South
12/5/15, 7:06 PM
North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 championship game
MTS: Cole Rogers 7 yd Rush (TD) 0-6
MTS: Matt Mosquera (PAT) 0-7
MTS: Jeremy Joyce 28 yd Pass from Matt Mosquera (CNV) 0-13
MTS: Matt Mosquera (PAT) 0-14
MTS: Cole Rogers 9 yd Rush (TD) 0-20
MTS: (PAT) 0-21
MTS: Matt Mosquera 4 yd Rush (TD) 0-27
MTS: (PAT) 0-28
PHS: Mattie Romero 14 yd Rush (TD) 6-28
PHS: (PAT) 7-28
MTS: Tom Marron 7 yd Rush (TD) 7-34
MTS: (PAT) 7-35
|Game Summary||Phillipsburg||Middletown South|
|3rd Down Conv||2||16||4||11|
|4th Down Conv||1||1||1||3|
|Tackles for loss||2.0||10.0|
|13||Mattie Romero||14||67||1||0||27||Cole Rogers||27||155||2||1|
|2||Jaquan Jones||11||48||0||0||17||Matt Mosquera||3||10||1||0|
|45||Jack Gardner||1||8||0||0||15||Tom Marron||1||7||1||0|
|22||Garrett Boures||3||2||0||0||43||Eddie Pinto||1||2||0||0|
|31||Sean Morro||1||2||0||0||1||Samson Dube||1||1||0||0|
|15||Zachary Ringhoff||5||10||25||0||2||17||Matt Mosquera||12||19||117||2||0|
|13||Mattie Romero||2||14||0||34||Donald Urhig||1||36||0|
|11||Yusef Shelton||3||11||0||5||Spencer Pereless||5||30||0|
|22||Garrett Boures||1||1||0||16||Jeremy Joyce||1||28||1|
|FIELD GOAL LEADERS:|
|13||Mattie Romero||6||23.7||35||17||Matt Mosquera||3||30.0||34|
|KICKOFF RETURN LEADERS:|
|13||Mattie Romero||5||22||0||10||Jeff Lewandowski||4||80||0|
|PUNT RETURN LEADERS:|
|13||Mattie Romero||1||0||0||10||Jeff Lewandowski||1||0||0|
|11||Yusef Shelton||1.0||0.0||0||0||6||James McCarthy||2.0||0.0||33||2|
|70||Anthony Capitini||1.0||0.0||0||0||7||Robert Hulse||1.0||0.0||0||0|