By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
EGG HARBOR CITY — Cedar Creek senior defensive back Amon McLaughlin returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown on Saturday against Delsea, giving the host Pirates a 7-0 lead before the Pirate Grill had even fired up to cook burgers.
Things like that are trivial to the Delsea Crusaders, though. They brush something like that off like an annoying fly at a summer barbecue. The Crusaders know that when they lace up their cleats on Friday night or Saturday afternoon, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
It took Delsea less than two minutes to tie the score, as Sal Marchese’s famed Wing-T offense started to grind on the Pirates’ defense like an industrial sanding wheel.
Dan Russo — a transfer from Vineland and converted quarterback who is now a 6-foot, 220-pound bulldozer of a fullback — rumbled 70 yards to set Delsea up inside Cedar Creek’s 5-yard line. Two plays later he pounded it in and Shane Madden’s extra point had things even at 7-7. From there, it was an onslaught of running plays as Delsea rolled to a 50-14 victory that featured a running clock throughout the second half.
“I came to Delsea and they wanted me to play a different position, and I’m just happy I can contribute to the team,” Russo said. “I figured that was going to happen — I don’t really have the body for quarterback anymore, honestly.”
“We had a good week of practice. Them scoring (on the first play of the game), they thought they had the momentum, but that didn’t really affect us,” said Wayne Adair, a senior running back and another bruiser at 6-foot, 195 pounds. “We had some rough special teams in the beginning — we fumbled our first kickoff return, too — but then we got the ball and punched them the whole time. When we practice that well, nobody’s going to stop us. When this offense is on, it’s unstoppable. When every play is positive, it’s hard to stop us.”
Cedar Creek — playing without injured starting quarterback Billy Smith and star wide receiver Darius Benjamin — was forced to punt on its next possession. Delsea took over at its own 49 — and began to take over the game. Adair capped the short drive with a 16-yard touchdown run to give the Crusaders the lead for good at 13-7, and on Delsea’s next possession a big run by Adair set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Russo. Quarterback Zach Maxwell found Adair on a swing pass for the two-point conversion and Delsea led, 21-7, with 2:10 remaining in the first quarter.
The lead swelled to 43-7 by halftime as Delsea (5-1, 2-1 West Jersey Football League Independence) outscored Cedar Creek (5-2, 2-1 WJFL Independence) 22-0 in the second quarter. A big sack from Dylan Snodgrass stopped a Pirates drive and forced a turnover on downs, and Delsea — ranked No. 6 in the South Jersey Glory Days/South Jersey Football Frenzy Show Best 11 — scored again on the ensuing possession as Russo rumbled in from 15 yards out. Adair added the two-point conversion to push the lead to 29-7 and effectively put the game out of reach with 9:45 to go before halftime.
This season is reminiscent of last year as so far, in six games, Delsea has scored 25 or more points five times. Last year, the Crusaders scored 25 or more in 11-of-13 games, went 12-1, and won a sectional championship before falling to Old Tappan in the Group 3 state championship game.
“This feels the same as last year, like nobody left,” Adair said. “Dan is doing a good job of taking over what Jared (Schoppe, fullback/linebacker) used to do. We’re still doing everything well.”
Russo said the Crusaders just have to keep staying the course and putting in the work and they’ll be right where they want to be come playoff time.
“We had a great week of practice and we prepared well. We’re a good team. We face adversity well. We knew we were going to bounce back (from the opening kickoff). At this point in the season you should start hitting your marks and everything should start coming together, and I feel like the scoreboard and how we played shows that,” he said. “We just have to keep doing the basics. At Delsea we do everything the right way and we just have to keep making sure we keep preparing like we did this week, and if we keep doing that we’ll be fine.”
WHAT’S NEXT: Delsea hosts Hammonton on Friday at 7 p.m. Cedar Creek travels to Oakcrest on Friday at 6 p.m.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter (X) @GDsullysays