By MARK TRIBLE
South Jersey Glory Days Senior Football Writer
GLOUCESTER TOWNSHIP — James Melody yelled out to his team here on Friday night after they unsnapped their helmets and tuned into his postgame speech.
The Cedar Creek football coach raised his voice as much as he could and put a simple and succinct reminder into the air.
“I told you the more physical and more disciplined team would win this game!” Melody shouted.
His Pirates, though they appeared undersized and seemingly outmanned by previously unbeaten Timber Creek, ousted the Chargers from the playoffs for the second consecutive season, 32-21.
They did it through resolute toughness. They remained unfazed by big moments.
“They’re a very good football team and they’ve done a really good job all year, we just felt that there were things after the whistle we had to stay away from,” Melody said. “We had to be more disciplined and that was the biggest thing we touched on all week.
“And we prepared very well. We prepared very well for what they were doing to do.”
Fourth-seeded Cedar Creek (8-3) will head to Farnham Park to face Camden High next weekend in the Central Jersey Group 3 championship. The third-seeded Panthers (9-1) downed second-seeded Holmdel on the road, 21-7.
“We fought a lot of adversity through the first half,” senior receiver Alim Parks said. “In the second half, we got in the locker room and preached adversity.
“We knew we were going to face it and we knew it was going to be shootout. It was about who wanted it more, who wanted to be a dog.”
Parks helped in that effort.
His connection on choice routes with quarterback Billy Smith proved large time and time again in clutch moments. The two linked up for a 9-yard score that put the game away in the final minutes.
Timber Creek’s opportunities in the final stanza were for naught. Smith found Christopher McAfee for a 6-yard score to put the Pirates ahead at 25-21 with 8 minutes, 59 seconds to play. The Chargers failed to fall on a pooch kick after the score.
The Timber Creek defense answered and forced turnover on downs. Two plays later, the offense lost a fumble on 3rd-and-short.
That set up the final score and completed a 20-7 run for the visitors — who won here last year in the first round of the postseason, 28-7.
Three second-half turnovers and several critical penalties plagued the Chargers. A roughing-the-passer call in the first half wiped off a 103-yard interception return by Marcus Upton. Upton’s incredible night included two other interceptions, but the laundry that waived off his most incredible play proved costly.
Instead of a two-touchdown deficit, Cedar Creek scored on the drive to trim the score to 14-12. That came on a Smith-to-Parks pass that looked similar to the final touchdown of the night.
“Penalties killed us,” Chargers coach Brian Wright said. “… Give those guys credit, they beat us at our own game in the fourth quarter.
“Sometimes you just meet your match.”
For the second season in a row, that match wears burgundy and green.
After the Pirates downed Wright’s bunch last year, they lost 25-0 in the sectional semis to Camden. Now they’ll take another shot at the Panthers.
“That’s been our M.O. all year, let’s get back to where we belong,” Melody said. “Listen, we’re playing for a sectional title again.
“That’s what this program’s all about. We’re back in the mix. We’re back with an opportunity against a team that beat us pretty good last year. We have our work cut out for us, but we’re excited for the opportunity and that’s all it is — every week is an opportunity.”
Smith heard that refrain at intermission.
“I talked to my quarterbacks coach Danny Collins and (Melody), and they just said, ‘you’ve got to take this as an opportunity of a lifetime,’” Smith said. “That’s what I took it as in the second half.
“We did what we had to do to get the win.”
More disciplined. More physical. Rare opportunities. Whatever it took.
The refrains matched the Melody.
Mark Trible is a special high school football writer for South Jersey Glory Days. You can follow him on Twitter @MTrible. Also, catch his high school football show (The South Jersey Football Frenzy Show) every Wednesday at 7 p.m. at facebook.com/sjglorydays.