GLASSBORO – It was a bona fide instant classic.
On an unseasonably warm and sun-splashed Sunday, it proved to be a showdown the Cedar Creek High School football team will never forget. And one that left West Deptford players sprawled on the turf in disbelief.
With junior standout Bo Melton leading a second-half charge, the Pirates erased a 15-point deficit and captured their first South Jersey Group 2 championship with a thrilling 28-27 victory Sunday over West Deptford at Rowan University.
“These guys came out ready to go, and it wasn’t easy,” Cedar Creek coach Tim Watson said. “It was against an awesome opponent and a program that is really the standard when it comes to Group 2 football in South Jersey.
“To win it in a gutty performance, in the fourth quarter … I couldn’t have dreamed up a better scenario.”
Melton rushed for 112 yards and a touchdown, threw a 39-yard TD pass and added the conversion pass and caught seven balls for 68 yards.
“He’s one of the best I’ve seen in a long time,” West Deptford coach Clyde Folsom said.
Gio Gismondi led the top-seeded Eagles (11-1) with 177 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Senior quarterback Nick Diaco completed 5-of-10 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown, while also collecting a pair of 1-yard TD runs.
The No. 3 seed, Cedar Creek (10-2) tied the game with 1:13 left as Jesse Milza (15-of-24, 199 yards) found Malachi Timberlake for a 38-yard touchdown pass. Pat Moran then drilled the PAT, giving the Pirates their only lead – and West Deptford’s only loss.
“We were expecting to pick up five or 10 yards, but he made a phenomenal play,” Milza said.
“My coach saw it the play before and told me it was going to be wide open,” Timberlake said. “I just had to make him miss. If I made the kid miss, I knew I’d get in the end zone. The play happened so fast.”
The 8-play, 75-yard scoring drive came right after the Eagles went ahead on a 69-yard catch-and-run by Paz Gismondi.
“They made plays in the fourth quarter,” Folsom said. “We had our best out on the edge. They broke a tackle, got down the sideline and scored.
“Their offensive scheme was very dynamic and they made the plays when they had to.”
The two teams met in the 2012 title game, with West Deptford rolling 42-28. But this time would be different, thanks to Melton.
“My brother (Gary Melton) and my cousin (Damon Mitchell) couldn’t get it,” he said. “My brother told me to do anything I can to get the win. I came out and gave all I had, the team gave all it had.
“I came in thinking it was the last time I’d ever play with my big cousin Ahmir (Mitchell), the last time with these teammates. I wanted to come out and give all I had for the team.”
Melton was spectacular, starting with the final play of the first half.
With 10 seconds left, he weaved his way 67 yards before Kyle Garrison dragged him down from behind at the 1-yard line. The play allowed the Eagles to keep their 14-0 lead, but clearly showed the Pirates were full of life.
“That definitely boosted our spirits. If he didn’t do that, maybe it’s a different outcome,” junior lineman Owen Bowles said.
Melton cut the deficit to 14-6 on a 10-yard run to cap the first series of the third quarter. And after Diaco put West Deptford up 21-6 with his second TD run with 3:10 left in the quarter, the Pirates really went to work.
Isaiah Watson scored on a 28-yard pass from Milza at the 1:18 mark, while Melton hit Louis Pitale on a 39-yard TD strike early in the fourth. Melton then connected with Milza for the 2-point conversion and a 21-21 deadlock.
“Bo Melton is an indescribable player,” Ahmir Mitchell said. “He embraced the big stage.”
With 3:46 left, West Deptford took the lead again. But with plenty of time, Cedar Creek rallied one final time.
Melton had three catches covering 15, 10 and 6 yards. Milza threw an incomplete pass and then found Timberlake for the game’s most decisive score.
Said Bowles: “It was our passion. Down 21-6, we didn’t give up. We kept grinding it out and never gave up hope.”
Kevin Minnick; (856) 486-2424; email@example.com
CEDAR CREEK 28
WEST DEPTFORD 27
Player of the game: Bo Melton accounted for over 200 yards of offense.
Play of the game: Jesse Milza’s 39-yard game-tying TD pass to Malachi Timberlake with 1:13 to play.
Well said: “We were down in both playoff games, so knowing how it felt to be down we knew we had to battle back.” – Cedar Creek senior and Michigan recruit Ahmir Mitchell