Staff Report

The Cedar Creek football team is finding out just how difficult life can be after a perfect 13-0 season. And it’s only going to get tougher.

St. Joseph Academy provides a big challenge for the Pirates, who host the Wildcats today at 2 p.m. in a rare Friday afternoon game. Our Bunting Family Pharmacy Game of the Week pits two of Atlantic County’s top programs against each other, and should be a fun one to watch on what should be a great fall day with temperatures rising only into the mid-60s.

It’s been an up-and-down season so far for Cedar Creek, which went 13-0 last year and won a regional championship. The Pirates got thumped by Edison to start the season, rebounded with a lopsided win over Absegami, lost at home against Ocean City, grinded out a 7-6 win over Camden Eastside, then fell 26-20 last week against Salem, one of the best teams in South Jersey, on the road.

Here’s a quick look at our Game of the Week:

Who: St. Joseph Academy (2-1) vs. Cedar Creek (2-3)

When: Today, 2 p.m.

Where: Cedar Creek High, Egg Harbor City

THE SKINNY: Both teams are going to try to establish the run, but Cedar Creek definitely likes to pass the ball, especially on a nice day with no weather to alter the plan. Junior quarterback Billy Smith has already completed 66 passes — more than some TEAMS do in the span of several seasons — for nearly 1,000 yards to go along with six touchdowns. He doesn’t lack for confidence, or playmakers. Alim Parks has more than 300 receiving yards already, and sophomore Darius Benjamin leads the team with 27 catches. In all, Smith has utilized seven different receivers, four of whom have more than 100 yards. St. Joseph has a pretty balanced attack, with about 300 yards each in both passing and rushing through its first three games.

Quarterback James Mantuano and St. Joseph Academy have won two straight games since a season-opening loss against St. Augustine Prep. (South Jersey Glory Days photo/Sully)

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Cedar Creek must be able to finish strong. In their first two losses, the Pirates scored just seven second-half points, but in the loss to Salem they rallied for 14 points in the second half after being down 20-6 at the break. The Pirates also need to play with a sense of urgency, because they really need this win. The schedule doesn’t lighten up one bit, as the next three games are against Delsea, Oakcrest and Winslow — teams with a combined 9-3 record. St. Joseph, on the other hand, is looking to ride the wave of good feelings it’s had recently, following a 30-10 loss to rival St. Augustine Prep in the season opener. The Wildcats bounced back with a really good win over an otherwise undefeated Holy Spirit team, and followed that up last week by beating Willingboro 14-7.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Mekhi Harvey, Cedar Creek RB. Harvey could really be an X factor in this one, as he’s begun to heat up. In three of the last four weeks he’s had more than 20 carries, and in two of those games he’s gone over the 100-yard mark. Billy Smith, Cedar Creek QB. A first-year starter, Smith is starting to round into form. After a tough game against Camden Eastside in which he was picked off four times, Smith bounced back with 222 yards and three touchdowns against Salem last week. Malik Moore-Summers and Mike Sears, Cedar Creek DL/LB. These two guys need to play well to bring up a lot of third-and-longs for the Wildcats. Combined, they have 17 TFLs this year and Sears leads the team with 42 total tackles. Ty Mercado, St. Joseph Academy WR. He’s gotten 17 touches (six catches, 11 rushes) in the first three games, but don’t be surprised to see that number increase in today’s game. He’s kind of like Gavin Roman of Holy Spirit, a small, quick slot receiver who coach Paul Sacco can do a lot of things with. James Mantuano, St. Joseph Academy QB. The senior has done a good job in the last two games with his completion percentage and taking care of the ball. That will be a huge factor today, as Cedar Creek has an aggressive defense that will be looking for turnovers to spark its offense. Demarion McCoy, St. Joseph Academy DL. He leads the team with seven TFLs, including two sacks, and has 20 tackles in three games.