The 2011 regular-season finale is one Immaculata senior quarterback Antonio Natale will never forget for all the wrong reasons — and he didn’t even play in it.
Natale was in street clothes, nursing a slightly separated right shoulder, and watched helplessly as the Spartans were soundly beaten 37-6 by Westfield at Kehler Stadium.
“It was horrible,” said Natale, who returned a week later to lead a 38-28 victory over DePaul in a Non-Public Group III game in Wayne.
Like last year, the Spartans (7-1) will end the regular season in a historic venue — Phillipsburg’s Maloney Stadium. Kickoff for the school’s first-ever meeting is 7 p.m.
The Stateliners (3-4) need a win to make the North 2 Group V playoffs. Not only would the Liners make it, they’d likely earn enough power points to have a sixth-seed, avoiding what nobody wants — an eighth seed and a trip to unbeaten powerhouse and heavily favored top-seed Elizabeth.
Playoff puzzles aren’t weighing on Immaculata, now a Non-Public Group II school. The Spartans wrapped up the program’s 26th playoff berth weeks ago and have had a stranglehold on the top seed for just as long. Tonight, Immaculata will play an unusual role as spoiler in longtime coach Pierce Frauenheim’s final regular season game after 47 years at the helm.
“We got it rolling right now,” said Natale, referring to the team’s six-game winning streak since its 20-7 loss to Ridge. “We are looking at this game as a big test, see if we’re ready for the playoffs.
“We definitely don’t want to go into the playoffs like we did last year,” he said.
Phillipsburg coach Ryan Ditze’s club will attempt to make it happen. The Liners have seen quite a few outstanding players — Elizabeth senior quarterback Phillip Walker and Hunterdon Central junior back Jason Cabinda — in the last few weeks. He sees Natale as part of the group.
“We’ve seen a lot of dual threats this year,” said Ditze. “Their offense revolves around (Natale). He’s very efficient as a passer and runner. They spread you out and try to exploit your weaknesses. They’re a tough, hard-nosed football team.”
Immaculata has risen to the occasion in a special atmosphere, one Phillipsburg’s home offers. Natale sets the tone, running for 562 of the team’s 1,506 yards and scoring 12 touchdowns. He’s also thrown for 959 yards and six TDs.
Senior receiver Trevor Socarras has caught two touchdowns and has 29 receptions overall for 485 yards. Natale and a band of skill players that also feature junior twins Connor and Chandler Vanderbeek have been protected by a strong front, with senior center Matt Charneski among the leaders.
Phillipsburg’s charge is centered around senior tackle Jarrett “Cat” Williams, senior linebacker Dajuan Lee and senior defensive end Marcus Williams.
Saturday’s game between Union and Hunterdon Central in Raritan Township has been cancelled because Union practiced only once this week. Both teams have made the playoffs — Union in North 2 Group V and Hunterdon Central in Central Group V. Hunterdon Central is looking for a game.