By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
WINSLOW — When the clock read triple zeroes on Friday night at the Bunting Family Pharmacy Game of the Week, the scoreboard read Cedar Creek 35, Winslow 27. It wasn’t that close.
The host Eagles scored a pair of touchdowns in the game’s final three minutes but by that time the final result was anything but a mystery, as Cedar Creek erased a 13-7 halftime deficit and completely dominated the third quarter en route to its eighth straight win to start the season — and 10th straight dating back to last season.
The Pirates relied on the strong running of senior tailback Ja’Quan Howard — who rushed for 216 yards and three touchdowns — and the pinpoint passing of quarterback J.C. Landicini, who tossed a pair of touchdown passes and had a bunch of big plays in the passing game.
Cedar Creek deferred to the second half when it won the coin toss to start the game, and that proved to be a wise decision, as the Pirates took the second-half kickoff and marched 64 yards to score and take a 14-13 lead. Landicini found tight end Kevin Dougherty to convert a key third down on the drive, and Howard ripped off a big run to set up his own 22-yard touchdown run. Cedar Creek then scored on its next two possessions to take a 28-13 lead near the end of the third quarter.
“We had a great week of practice this week and everybody bought in,” Landicini said. “We had a little bit of a rough game against Oakcrest (a 25-7 win last week), but everybody came ready to practice this week and it showed on the field. The energy in the locker room was great this game.”
Cedar Creek (8-0, 4-0 West Jersey Football League Memorial Division) extended its lead to 35-13 early in the fourth quarter when a bomb from Landicini to JoJo Bermudez down the left side set up a 2-yard touchdown run from Howard, his third of the game. But Winslow (5-2, 3-1 WJFL Memorial) tried to fight back in the final 4:38, scoring twice behind star quarterback Hamas Duren, who scored on a 2-yard run with 2:44 remaining then threw a touchdown pass with 14 ticks left.
“This year, we’ve hit the weight room hard. We’ve been taking practice and conditioning seriously. All that work has paid off, because now we’re 8-0,” said Cedar Creek senior cornerback Zach Ricci. “We have a lot of ball players on this team. I mean, A LOT of ball players. You can tell from the stats — we’re averaging, what, about 35 points per game? And we’ve only allowed about 40. We’re playing great.”
THE TURNING POINT: It may have seemed like an innocent enough play at the time — a Winslow extra point with 1:12 to go in the second quarter. But it turned out to be a huge play, as Creek’s Bermudez burst through the line and blocked the attempt. Instead of being up 14-7 going into half the Eagles had to settle for 13-7, and when the Pirates scored coming out of halftime, Matthew Best’s extra point gave Creek a 14-13 lead. They would never relinquish that lead, as the Pirates scored three times in the third quarter.
“IF YOU WANT TO WIN, PUT QUANIE IN”: That’s what he said following Cedar Creek’s 7-6 win over Holy Spirit a few weeks ago, when Howard chewed up yards and clock on an epic 8-minute, game-sealing drive against the Spartans.
Tonight, Howard was that good from start to finish as he rushed 24 times for 216 yards. Nearly 160 of those yards came in the third quarter, as did two of his three scores.
“He’s a dog, man,” Ricci said of the Pleasantville transfer. “We’re really happy to have him on our team. He’s a big player for us. He had, what, 200 yards tonight? He’s a great kid. We have so many weapons on the outside, too, and when defenses crowd the inside, we have guys on the outside who can make plays.”
“Without Quanie, we wouldn’t be where we are right now. Him coming here was a big part to this team,” Landicini said. “And when he’s not scoring, he’s happy for everyone else who is. When people have to worry about the run it gives me room to pass to JoJo and the other guys, and shout out to the linemen. Without them, we couldn’t do anything.”
WHAT THE WIN MEANS FOR CEDAR CREEK: The Pirates, currently No. 3 in Glory Days Magazine’s “Best 11” rankings of teams in the West Jersey Football League, certainly are making a case to be No. 1. They’ve answered the bell every time and have beating some really good teams, including Holy Spirit and Woodrow Wilson. Now, they have another win against an outstanding team full of playmakers.
The Pirates are now playing with the type of confidence they’ll need to compete for a sectional or regional championship in late November/early December.
“Consistency has been the key,” Landicini said, “just trying to go 1-0 each week. It’s E.A.T. — effort, attitude and tenacity — that’s what we live by. We’re confident.”
Added Ricci, “this feels great. My senior year, I want to have a good year. I love this team and we’ve been doing great — but we’re not done yet. We have to play Camden next week so we’ll be trying to go 1-0 next week, and we want to win it all. So we’re not done.”
What’s next: Cedar Creek hosts Camden on Oct. 23 at noon. Winslow hosts Holy Spirit on Oct. 22 at 7 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays