Cedar Creek came into the Central/South Group 2 Regional Championship against Hillside with nothing to lose, so on the Pirates’ first possession of the second half, coach Tim Watson decided to take a chance and go for it on 4th down and less than a yard to go at the Pirates’ own 10-yard line. Cedar Creek was holding a 3-0 lead at the time and moments earlier its defense had come up with a huge goal-line stand against the Comets.

Watson said he was trying to jump start an offense that had been held in check by one of the best defenses in the state.

Unfortunately, the decision backfired.

The Comets swarmed Cedar Creek senior quarterback Louie Barrios on that fourth-down play and got the ball back within striking distance of the Pirates’ goal line. It seemed as though Creek’s defense would make another great stand, but on 3rd-and-goal from the 6, Hillside quarterback Nahree Biggins rolled to his left and connected with Fatir Bell for a touchdown and a 6-3 lead. Those were the first of 25 straight unanswered points, as the Comets came to life in the second half and rolled to a 25-3 victory at SHI Stadium, and a perfect 13-0 season.

Hillside scored on its next two possessions, then added an exclamation point when senior Jahon Moore plowed his way through an exhausted Cedar Creek defense — which was on the field for much of the second half — for a seven-yard touchdown run with 5:04 remaining.

It was a tough way to finish for the Pirates, but their goal from the beginning of training camp — and their season motto — was “The Greatness Getback.” Coach Watson wanted his club to not only be playing for championships again, but, more importantly, to have that championship swagger. And the Pirates did earn the Central Jersey Group 2 title on Nov. 30 with a thrilling 31-23 victory over Camden.

“Of course I’m proud of my guys, for turning from what we did last year to this year, and making it to this game. I just wish we came out on top,” said Barrios, who had a career year and turned himself into one of the best quarterbacks in South Jersey this season. “It’s hard, especially for it being out last game ever for us senior guys. It hits you hard when that final buzzer goes off.”

“We’re obviously disappointed. In a game like this, you want to put your best foot forward, but we never could get into a rhythm on offense. Once they took the wind out of our sails they got some momentum and started to push us around a little bit. They are a very good football team. They are well coached and have a ton of guys who can run around and make some plays,” Watson said. “I put us in a bad position going for it (on fourth down) in the third quarter with our backs against the wall, but we were really trying to get something going. We were moving the ball in the first half pretty well, and I thought we could get a drive going there. If we take it down and score there it’s a different ballgame. Momentum was big in this game and they ended up kind of dominating the second half, so hat’s off to them.”

The Comets extended their lead to 12-3 late in the third quarter when James Louis ran up the middle for a 5-yard touchdown, then pushed the lead to 18-3 with 7:06 left in the game on Louis’ second scoring run, this time from seven yards out. Cedar Creek (10-3) had its chances in the first half, but managed just a 22-yard, first-quarter field goal by Taylor Manning. The Pirates turned the ball over twice inside Hillside’s 35-yard line in the first half.

“This was for fun and pride. I think these guys wanted to come out and represent 609, but it’s so tough when you don’t have any understanding of the team you’re going to play. We had one common opponent, but without having a real history with them, you don’t know what to expect,” Watson said. “This week we weren’t stressing. At this stage of the year, we’ve been playing football for a long time, so it kind of is what it is. I knew the kids would be up for it, and they were. I just think momentum kind of went their way, and they are a good football team. You can’t make the kind of mistakes we made (against them). But this definitely doesn’t define us. I’m proud of this group and what they were able to do.”

“We just said, ‘let’s go for it,'” Barrios said, referring to that fateful decision early in the third quarter on fourth down. “I just feel like they wanted it more than we did. This was everything we wanted, but right now I have mixed emotions. We won that sectional, but this was a big game and I just wish we came out on top.”

The public school regional championships were put in place last year as a stepping stone to New Jersey trying to get to overall state champions, instead of 20 sectional champions. Watson put the loss in perspective, understanding that until there is an overall state champion, winning a sectional title is still a very big deal, and that’s something Cedar Creek accomplished this year for the first time since 2015.

“It was a great season and we had a great senior class. I love these kids. The only reason it really hurts is because you don’t want to see those guys go out with a loss. We’ve lost games before, but I feel great thinking about this year and what we were able to accomplish. Those are the things we’ll think about. This game is not going to define us and the type of season we had, that’s for sure,” the coach said. “Not only did we have a strong cast of seniors, but we had a lot of young guys playing. That might have shown defensively a little bit in the second half, just being able to stay disciplined and consistent. But these guys are champions, and whatever happened today, that won’t change. That (Central Jersey Group 2) trophy is going to be at our place and these guys are going to get rings, so they can hang their hat on that.”

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