Cedar Creek Captures Regional Title, Ends Season 13-0
The Cedar Creek Pirates championship may have come down to the final play on Saturday night, but this win was a year in the making for head coach James Melody.
After finishing 3-5 in Melody's first year during the COVID shortened 2020 season, the Pirates got back to work this summer with a goal of improving each day ahead of the 2021 campaign.
"We had a 1-0 mindset each week," Melody told me via a text message. "We carried a championship mentality every time we stepped on the field and it turned into 13-0.
Melody came to the Egg Harbor City school, leaving his alma mater, North Jersey power Union, with an unenviable task of replacing Tim Watson, the only coach Cedar Creek had even known.
Watson won sectional titles in 2015 and 2019 before stepping down after the 2019 season.
But Melody has never second-guessed his decision to leave, even after a tough first year, where the Pirates went just 3-5.
"Leaving my alma mater was the best decision I ever made," Melody said. " It led me to Cedar Creek and these kids, they have meant the world to me."
The game came down to the final play, and the Pirates were down 22 points, but came roaring back to beat Woodrow Wilson 35-34 to win the South/Central Group III regional championship game at Rutgers University’s SHI Stadium, ending the year the 13-0.
On the game's final play, Tigers quarterback Devin Kargman threw a fourth-down pass to running back Naz’si Oglesby and was brought down by Pirates linebacker C.J. Resto just short of the endzone, essentially ending the game.
"We took a timeout when we saw what they came out in to just go over a few things," Meloday said about the game's final play.
"My defensive coordinator Ryan Flannery has had this group so well prepared all year and we just had to make one more stop. CJ was able to get out of the box and make a play on a wheel route by the running back, was an incredible play. It's a game of inches, it's tough that the game had to come down to a play like that but we made one more play at the end of the day. It was one of our senior captains just doing what he does and making a play."
The play was reviewed since the game was played at Rutgers Stadium, replay review was used for the Championship games, and it was announced that Oglesby came up short.
To take the lead, Pirates quarterback J.C. Landicini connected with Zac Ricci for a 51-yard touchdown, giving Cedar Creek their only lead in the game.
"We have been throwing a decent amount of posts and verticals to Jojo (Bermudez) and we were able to run off the safety with him, we ran a shallow crosser from the other side to hold the backers and it created a nice window for J.C. to give it to Zac," Melody explained.
"Zac is just so fast when he gets the ball, he's tough to catch. He's one of the best football players I have coached, he's a versatile kid, played both ways, shut down the team's best receivers all year. Just a big-time play by a big-time player."
Ricci had six catches for 91 yards and two scores for the Pirates.
Speaking of big-time players, the aforementioned Bermudez had a monster game in his final school contest, catching 13 passes for 136 yards and a TD, finishing off a historical high school career.
"Jojo put together one of the best seasons any NJ receiver ever had, and he's been able to come up big in the two biggest games of the season over the last two weeks," Melody acknowledged. "He has had a remarkable career, he deserves everything that is coming his way. Nothing he does surprises me."
Per South Jersey historian, Chuck Langerman, Bermudez set the record for most receiving yards in South Jersey history with 1,662 yards this season.
While Bermudez had a standout season, he wasn't the only reason the Pirates had a 13-0 season. They had a plethora of underrated pieces to help them achieve this amazing goal.
"There are so many to name," Melody said. "Our guys up front don't get enough credit on both sides. Our D-line has applied pressure all year led by Jamal Chapman, Kevin Dougherty, Malik Moore-Summers, DJ Martinez, and Jayden Torres and my guys up front on offense have paved the way for 5,000 yards of offense Connor Laughlin, Perry Parker, Mike Sears, Jaeden Sorao, and Javy Acevedo. Guys that have just worked hard to get to where we are now."