By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
EGG HARBOR CITY — Heading into Week 5 the Cedar Creek football team hadn’t allowed a single point and had blown out its first four opponents. The closest game was a 36-0 throttling of Willingboro. But, Creek had taken advantage of programs in varying stages of rebuilding projects, so, how good was this Pirates defense, really?
Um, pretty darn good, judging by what they did on Saturday afternoon against perhaps the best quarterback in South Jersey and maybe even the state. Woodrow Wilson’s Devin Kargman is the ultimate gunslinger and has more than 6,000 yards and 60 touchdowns in his illustrious career. And he was coming off a game in which he threw for nearly 400 yards and five touchdowns in a 44-21 win over Haddonfield.
Cedar Creek came with the pressure early, often and throughout, and Kargman and the Tigers were never really a threat. The Pirates jumped out to a 21-0 lead and cruised to a 21-8 victory, and they’ll take that sparkling 5-0 record into next week’s showdown with Holy Spirit, the No. 1 team in Glory Days’ Best 11 rankings.
The Pirates forced Kargman into 17 incomplete passes and limited the star quarterback to 172 yards passing, his lowest total of the season.
“It’s all about effort, attitude and tenacity (E.A.T.) and nothing else. We go out there every day and bust our tails. We’re just hungry. After last year, we’re just mad and we’re taking it out on everybody else. That’s basically it,” said linebacker C.J. Resto. “We felt like we needed to get pressure on him because we saw the film. Every time somebody got after him he was making some bad throws, so that’s what we tried to work on. Our line is amazing. They work their tails off every day and they are hungry. We’re trying to get after everybody we play.”
PRESSURE PACKED: When Kargman has time to sit in the pocket and throw he can carve up any defense, so Cedar Creek wanted to make sure that didn’t happen. The Pirates got some great efforts from guys like defensive ends Daniel Martinez and Jamal Chapman, defensive tackles Malik Moore-Summers and Jaden Torres, and hybrid linebacker Elijah Usher. They came up with a bunch of sacks and put pressure on Kargman for nearly three hours on a hot September afternoon.
It’s a whole different look from last year, when the Pirates went 3-5 and allowed 35 or more points in four of those five losses.
“This is crazy because last year we weren’t scoring a lot of points and we were letting up a lot of points, so for us to come out here and hold one of the best offenses in South Jersey to just eight points — that means a lot to us. We’ve been locking it down all week. This was probably one of our best weeks of practice. We had a great week of practice,” said senior defensive back JoJo Bermudez. “We’re running to the ball. Last year, we weren’t running to the ball enough and we were yelling at each other (when opponents scored). When they scored we kept our composure and we just kept fighting. Like I said, at practice we’ve all been locked in. Our D-line did a great job. They do a great job in the weight room, too. We’re very confident in our D-line. We watched a lot of film on those guys.”
TURNING DEFENSE INTO OFFENSE: Neither team could get anything going offensively in the opening quarter, but in the second Cedar Creek’s defense began to make plays that paid dividends for the offense. Torres forced a fumble midway through the second quarter that Chapman pounced on, setting Creek (5-0) up with a 1st-and-goal just inside the Wilson 10-yard line. Jaquan Howard raced around the right side and hit pay dirt and junior kicker Matthew Best nailed the extra point to give the Pirates a 7-0 lead.
On Wilson’s next possession, safety Zaire Pilgrim picked off a pass at midfield and that led to Cedar Creek’s second score. Quarterback J.C. Landicini hooked up with Bermudez on a pass play inside the 10, and on first down at the 6 Howard punched it in again to put his squad up 14-0.
THE TURNING POINT: With time winding down in the second quarter, Wilson (2-2) was making a bid to cut the lead in half and it looked like the Tigers had the touchdown they needed. Kargman took off up the middle for 32 yards and was about to score when Howard stripped the ball away at the 2-yard line. The ball was recovered in the end zone for a touchback, and Cedar Creek then marched 80 yards to go up 21-0 before halftime.
The big play was Landicini finding Jaylen Wilson to set the Pirates up at Woodrow Wilson’s 28-yard line. A few plays later, Landicini hooked up with 6-foot-4, 200-pound wideout Elijah Smalls on a fade in the right corner of the end zone.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, both throwing or running,” Bermudez said. “Every time I went out for a pass they were holding — I think they had five flags against me. But we just stayed with the quick passing game and the running game.”
STAT LEADERS: Landicini had an outstanding game, going 16-of-29 for 186 yards and a touchdown. Bermudez finished with 85 receiving yards on seven catches, and Wilson added two catches for 37 yards. Michael Estremera led the Tigers with 86 yards receiving and Naz’sir Oglesby chipped in 56 yards rushing on 16 carries.
WHAT THE WIN MEANS FOR CEDAR CREEK: It shows the Pirates certainly belong in the Best 11 conversation in South Jersey, and this win should give them a ton of confidence heading into next week’s showdown with current No. 1 Holy Spirit.
“This is a great feeling. We come to practice with a lot of energy and we’re all cheering,” Bermudez said. “Last year we didn’t have that brother bond but we came in as brothers this year. We knew our mission. Coach (James) Melody is a great guy. Shout out to him, he does a lot of studying. He’ll be hitting me up at night talking about what plays we should be running. He’s a good coach.”
“This absolutely makes a statement for us, but we just want to go 1-0 every week,” Resto said. “After tonight, we’ll scratch this and get on to next week and try to go out and win that game. We’re looking forward to (Holy Spirit) 100 percent. I’m looking forward to that game.”
WHAT’S NEXT: Cedar Creek travels to Holy Spirit on Oct. 1 at 6 p.m. Woodrow Wilson hosts Timber Creek on Oct. 9 at 1 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays