By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
When the 2016 West Jersey Football League schedules were released, Cedar Creek looked to have one of the toughest in South Jersey. Not only did the Pirates have to contend with teams such as Oakcrest and St. Joseph in the Independence Division, but crossover games included the likes of Camden, Haddonfield and Delsea Regional.
The Pirates handled Delsea, 28-21, on Sept. 17 then beat Ocean City, 21-7, last weekend to improve to 3-0, and this week there is no let-up as they travel to Camden (1-1) on Friday at 6 p.m. But the Pirates — who won the South Jersey Group 2 championship in 2015 — embrace a tough schedule.
“I love it. It seems like every game has something we need to prove,” said defensive lineman Owen Bowles, who has given a verbal commitment to Rutgers University. “The Delsea game was a game we wanted to win because they’re a team we want to be like; Camden, that was our worst loss ever in school history, so it’s good to get back there; Haddonfield (last year) was a close game that could have gone either way. I love it. We couldn’t have asked for a better schedule. I’ve wanted to play Absegami since I started high school. So, it’s a perfect schedule in my eyes.”
The last time Cedar Creek visited Camden, the Pirates got thumped 48-0 in the opening round of the 2013 state playoffs.
“It’s going to be an exciting game. I’m glad it’s at their place. Last time, it was a rough game, to say the least,” Bowles said. “So, I’m glad we get to have the chance to have a little redemption.”
Camden fell, 22-15, to Camden Catholic in the season opener, but after a bye week came back to beat Seneca 27-7 as quarterback Drew Harris and freshman wide receiver Jajuan Hudson shined. Harris threw for 141 yards and three touchdowns, and 128 of those yards and all three scores went to Hudson. Bowles said the key for the Pirates is getting some pressure on Harris so Cedar Creek’s secondary isn’t forced to cover Panthers receivers for extended periods of time.
“Their quarterback is without a doubt their best player. So if we can shut down him, that will limit their offense. We just have to play sound football and do our thing. I think we’re a pretty good football team defensively. We just have to keep working at it,” Bowles said.
Facing a spread offense is much more exciting for a guy like Bowles. Against Delsea’s Wing-T, the defensive linemen kind of had to just hold their ground so the linebackers and secondary could come up and make tackles.
“It’s nice getting a chance to go against these spread teams. You get a chance to maybe get some sacks. It’s a lot more fun. You can work in some twists up front,” Bowles said. “That game (against Delsea) was a lot of taking on double teams, squatting and holding my ground. It’s a boring game (for a defensive lineman), but it really felt good knowing afterward that we were able to hang in there with them.”
Cedar Creek inexperience is in its secondary, but Bowles said he’s confident that unit will play well, particularly if the line can get some pressure on Harris.
“The biggest thing is, if they get beat they can’t let getting beat on that play affect the next play. But they’ve done a great job,” Bowles said. “Don Simmons is a returning starter and he’s been doing this thing, and everyone else has been stepping up. They’ve been getting better every game. I’m not too worried about them.”
Other Friday night games
Holy Spirit at Delsea Regional, 6 p.m.: Holy Spirit knocked off seven-time defending sectional champion St. Joseph two weeks ago before breezing to a victory over Lower Cape May last Friday night. The undefeated Spartans look to take down four-time defending sectional champion Delsea this week. Weather could be a huge factor, as both teams like to run the ball. Avoiding fumbles will be key for both the Spartans and Crusaders, who crushed Paul VI last week after consecutive losses to Timber Creek and Cedar Creek to start the season.
Pitman at Pleasantville, 6 p.m.: The Greyhounds snapped a 21-game skid last week with a dominating win over Riverside and will be looking to keep it going against the Panthers, who are 0-3 overall and 0-2 in the WJFL Classic Division. Pitman was shut out last week in a 30-0 loss to Schalick, so it will have to put some point up early. Pleasantville is riding high after its first win since Thanksgiving 2013.
Williamstown at Millville, 6 p.m.: Williamstown is just 1-2 and coming off a heartbreaking, 14-13 loss to Hammonton in which a missed extra point cost the Braves a chance to tie the game. The Braves are young, but hungry. Millville is licking its wounds after a 41-21 loss to St. Augustine Prep, but is still in good shape for a run at the playoffs with a 2-1 record overall.
Cumberland Regional vs. Vineland, 6 p.m.: The Fighting Clan are rolling at 4-0, and there’s no reason to believe that will come to an end this week. The conditions likely will favor a running attack, and Vineland has one of the best around in quarterback Isaih Pacheco and tailback Daivon Seymore. The Colts better dig their heels in on defense.
Eastern at Absegami, 6 p.m.: The Braves are 1-2 and need a win to get back to .500 and possibly get some momentum going. The schedule lightens up some in October, but if Absegami falls to 1-3 it might be tough to get into the state playoffs.
Hammonton at Bridgeton, 7 p.m.: Bridgeton has gotten off to a disappointing start, but this is generally the time of year the Bulldogs turn it on. Definite trap game for the Blue Devils. This won’t be an easy game for Hammonton despite Bridgeton’s 0-3 record.
Oakcrest vs. Overbrook, 7 p.m.: The Falcons have taken the WJFL Independence Division by storm and have gotten off to their best start since 1986. They’ll be looking to improve to 4-0 with a non-divisional road win. If they keep playing the kind of defense they have so far, 4-0 is not out of the question by any means.
Ocean City at West Windsor-Plainsboro South, 7 p.m.: The Red Raiders have a heck of a bus ride coming up and are facing a team coming off an emotional victory. The Pirates hadn’t won a game in nearly two years but scored what appeared to be the tying touchdown in the final minute against Hamilton West. But instead of kicking the extra point to send the game into overtime, coach Skip Edwards called timeout and asked his team if it wanted to go for the win. The players said yes, and the Pirates converted a two-point conversion for a 29-28 win.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN