By GIUSEPPE UNGARO
HAMMONTON — Pat Moran didn’t stop believing in himself, because his team’s confidence in its kicker never wavered.
The Cedar Creek High School senior shook off two previous misses to boot a 39-yard field goal in the second overtime to give the Pirates a 17-14 win over St. Joseph on Saturday at Bill Bendig Field.
The win puts the Pirates (6-1, 4-0) in the driver’s seat in the West Jersey Football League’s Independence Division.
“I really felt bad because I thought I let the coaches down, but I had to snap back into reality and think to myself, ‘hey it can come down to me,’” Moran said. “I know they believe in me. I just have to get the job done. I can’t sit here and feel sorry for myself. I just have to make sure to get it when it counts.”
The teams traded turnovers in the first overtime period, as St. Joseph picked off a pass in the end zone, but then fumbled the ball away on its possession. Then, going on offense, St. Joseph was stopped on downs, giving Cedar Creek another chance to win the game.
Moran delivered for his team, even after a penalty pushed the attempt back from 34 to 39 yards. But he wasn’t the only one to come up with big plays against the Wildcats (5-2, 3-1).
The Cedar Creek defense played tough throughout the game, allowing just one touchdown through four quarters and two overtime periods.
The Pirates, led by Michal Gulag, Nazhir Chapman and Don Simmons, held the Wildcats to 153 yards of offense. They also forced three turnovers.
“Defense is a big part of our program,” said Chapman, who had a pair of interceptions. “We stress it a lot in practice. We try to perfect our craft, and came up big today. This win means a lot.”
Despite the defense’s effort, the Wildcats held a 14-7 lead at the half. St. Joseph opened the game with Nate Johnson’s 92-yard kickoff return.
However, the Pirates answered right back with a big play of their own, as Bo Melton caught a pass at the line of scrimmage, turned upfield, and didn’t stop until he was in the end zone 74 yards later.
“I caught a bubble (screen) and I thought, ‘I have to make a play,’” Melton said. “I’m always thinking that I have to make a play.”
The game was tied, 7-7, just 35 seconds into the game — and stayed that way until St. Joseph running back and Egg Harbor Township resident Qwahsin Townsel scored on a 17-yard run with 58 seconds left in the first half.
The Pirates held the ball for more than eight minutes in the third quarter on a 16-play drive that ended in a missed field goal. Cedar Creek ultimately tied the game early in the fourth quarter, as Melton, who ended the day with 11 catches and 142 yards, hauled in a 10-yard touchdown pass from Jesse Milza.
“We dumped in down the middle because they didn’t have any safeties,” Melton said about catching a slant for a touchdown.
Milza finished the day with 255 yards and two scores. He made several key throws, including converting a third-and-15 with a 15-yard pass to Simmons that set the stage for Moran’s heroics.
Cedar Creek travels to Haddonfield on Friday night for a non-divisional game, then returns home on Nov. 5 to take on Oakcrest. If the Pirates beat the Falcons, they’ll wrap up the Independence Division championship. Oakcrest needs to beat both Cedar Creek and Absegami, and have Ocean City beat St. Joseph, to win the division title outright.
Contact Giuseppe Ungaro: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDgisepu
By GIUSEPPE UNGARO