In 2012, the Cedar Creek High School football team was still taking baby steps.
The Pirates had just one season under their belts, a 4-5 run with an independent schedule. It was a week-by-week process as they continued to learn the speed of the game at the varsity level and what it took to compete.
As it turned out, they did a pretty good job of understanding the process.
With 10 victories in its first 11 games, Cedar Creek was in the South Jersey Group 2 final against West Deptford. It probably wasn’t supposed to happen so soon, but the Pirates found themselves on the big stage with a chance to complete for a title.
Three years later, they’re back.
Led by the senior tandem of Gary Melton and Damon “Duwop” Mitchell the first time around, Cedar Creek will rely on their brothers – junior Bo Melton and senior Ahmir Mitchell – as it takes on West Deptford for the sectional title Sunday at Rowan University.
“There’s definitely some pretty cool history with this game,” Cedar Creek coach Tim Watson said. “It’s a little bit different scenario, but very exciting for our program.
“We have tons of respect for Coach (Clyde) Folsom and what he’s done. It jumps out at you when you watch them on film. They play very hard and are well-coached. We want to take our program to the next level and need a win to help that. It’s great to get there, an honor, but we have to get it done.”
West Deptford won that 2012 final, 42-28. A junior that season, running back Gerald Owens rushed for 206 yards and five touchdowns. He’s now a redshirt freshman defensive lineman at Michigan State.
“It helps that they don’t have Gerald Owens,” Watson said. “That’s the first thing we joked about, but their quarterback (Nick Diaco) is almost as big.”
Owens was 6-foot-2, 255 pounds in that final. Diaco, a Colgate recruit who also plays defensive end, is 6-3, 230 pounds.
Watson said his approach to the final hasn’t changed, but the outlook has.
“I’ve learned as a coach to embrace it,” he said. “At times it was a little stressful the first time around.
“Things haven’t changed much, but our outlook is a little different. We’re not pressing as much. We really want to enjoy the moment.”
Melton, who has picked up a handful of college offers, has been the catalyst for Cedar Creek. Whether it be out of the backfield, in the slot or even in the defensive backfield, he’s had a breakout season and is widely considered one of the state’s premier underclassmen.
He picked up some solid advice from his older brother, words of wisdom he hopes will allowed the Pirates to walk off the turf at Rowan with a different feeling that those who played in the past.
“He really wants me to get it for him,” Bo Melton said. “They didn’t get it because of Gerald Owens. They didn’t wrap him up.
“I talked a lot with him and got some great advice. He told me to take it like any other game, to come out hard. It’s a championship, but you’ve got to play it like any other game. You need to go out and compete.
“To get to this point, playing for a South Jersey Group 2 championship, is a very eye-opening thing to some people. My brother told me to play like I have been, let the game come to me. If we give it our all, we should come out with the win.”
Kevin Minnick; (856) 486-2424; firstname.lastname@example.org
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