By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
EGG HARBOR CITY — Cedar Creek has had all of its prodigious talents on display all season long. But in case there were still any doubters out there, the Pirates figured they’d put on a show on Saturday since it’s now state playoff time.
Top-seeded Cedar Creek put the pedal to the metal from start to finish on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, rolling to a 47-6 win over No. 8 Absegami in the opening round of the South Jersey Group 3 tournament. The undefeated Pirates (10-0), ranked No. 13 in the state by nj.com, scored seven touchdowns, including two in each of the first three quarters, to advance to next weekend’s semifinal round. Creek will take on No. 4 Somerville, a 38-21 winner over No. 5 Rahway.
Quarterback J.C. Landicini was outstanding, going 16-of-21 for 290 yards and four touchdowns. He connected with six different receivers, including senior star JoJo Bermudez, who had seven catches for 166 yards and a touchdown. That score came two minutes before halftime and was a 73-yard strike, right over the top of Absegami’s defense that gave Cedar Creek a 27-0 lead.
“We saw the safety was playing up a little bit, but even if he was playing back we knew my speed was going to beat him over the top, so we just took the shot,” said Bermudez, who recently received a scholarship offer from the University of Cincinnati. “We knew what we had to do coming into this game. We try to go 1-0 every week and every week we’re looking for a better outcome from our offense. At practice, we work on a lot of QB-to-wide receiver throws, so our timing is always there. That plays a lot on Game Day.”
The Pirates had plenty of rushing yards, too, as senior tailback Ja’Quan Howard racked up 103 yards and two touchdowns on just 13 carries while his backup, Mekhi Harvey, made the most of his one fourth-quarter carry, racing 80 yards for a touchdown to cap off the win.
“He wouldn’t be a backup running back at many other places. Mekhi Harvey is an outstanding runner. He came alive early in the season when he was given a shot, and he works hard, so I was happy to see that,” said Pirates coach James Melody. “We spread the love, but that’s what we’re capable of doing, week in and week out. I’ve been saying this for a long time — we have a lot of weapons. Our primary weapons, if you want to call them that, are outstanding players, but we have dudes everywhere, we really do.”
Landicini showed how good, and efficient, he can be in this offense, as four of the six receivers he connected with had at least 20 yards receiving. He engineered a long drive to start the game, hitting Bermudez on a couple of key passes that set up Howard’s 13-yard touchdown run, and after Bermudez’s punt return for a touchdown got called back early in the second quarter, Landicini hit Elijah Smalls over the middle for a 61-yard TD strike that gave the Pirates a 13-0 lead. Creek then went up 20-0 on its next possession as Landicini pitched a shovel pass to Alim Parks for a 1-yard touchdown.
“He’s smart. He’s a really smart kid who is capable of making all the throws, which is a great weapon to have as a quarterback,” Melody said of his signal-caller. “He has a great head on his shoulders, he’s mentally tough, physically tough — he took a pounding in some games this year and kept getting up. He did a great job today, and he’s so efficient running this offense.”
“We put in the work, and when you put in the work you get good results,” Bermudez added. “We’ve been working all summer, and last year was a big motivation for us. We were getting blown out every game, now look at us. Our goal is to just go 1-0 every week and just keep getting better at practice every day. Next week, we’ll see what Somerville is all about.”
Cedar Creek’s defense was just as impressive. The Pirates had 11 tackles for loss, including six sacks. Malik Moore-Summers led the way with eight tackles and 2.5 sacks, linebacker C.J. Resto added 11 tackles and fellow linebacker Elijah Usher had five tackles, including a pair of TFLs.
“Our defense is outstanding,” Melody said. “Our defensive coaches do an outstanding job of getting them prepared and we have premier players on that side of the ball, guys who have played a lot of varsity football. That works to our benefit, and they’ve been getting it done all year.”
While Cedar Creek is playing with a ton of confidence right now, Melody said his team won’t be overlooking anybody in the state playoffs. The other side of the SJG3 bracket features a couple of perennial powerhouses, as No. 2 Wall will host No. 3 Delsea on Friday night. Each of those teams scored more than 40 points in their opening-round victories.
“Our section is brutal. There are a lot of good teams. I was able to catch Somerville last night and they are a terrific program. They do a lot of things well,” Melody said. “But our kids have been tested. Our schedule was daunting. When we looked at it originally we knew it was going to be tough to get through it, but our guys have answered the bell every week. Our mantra is to go 1-0 every week and it’s important to have that mindset. They know they’re going to enjoy this game today and tonight, then reset their minds and get going on to Somerville.”
What’s next: No. 1 Cedar Creek hosts No. 4 Somerville on Saturday at noon in the South Jersey Group 3 semifinals.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays