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2023 Battle at the Beach Day Three recap

Cedar Creek's (3) Darius Benjamin runs with the ball as Matawan's Colin Palumbo (22) attempts to tackle him in the Battle at the Beach football game played at Ocean City High School in Ocean City, New Jersey on Sunday, August 27, 2023. Joshua Guirguis/D2 Sports Network

OCEAN CITY (N.J.) - The third and final day of the third annual West Jersey Football Coaches Association Battle at the Beach high school football showcase featured a district rivalry, a clash between two prominent parochial programs separated by state lines, and two South Jersey teams hungry to make an early season statement. Here's a recap of the final day at Carey Stadium on Sunday:

Collingswood dominates Maple Shade, leaves Battle at the Beach with high hopes for 2023

The Collingswood High School football team came into the 2023 season with heavy hearts and high heads.

Dawning helmet decals, hats, and shirts commemorating the loss of alum Ryan Rodgers, the Panthers left no doubt in a 34-0 victory in their season opener against Maple Shade. Senior Shakur Carter grabbed a pair of interceptions and also caught a touchdown pass. R.J. Blount and Jonathan Boyd each scored a rushing touchdown and Tomas Money scored once through the air on a pass from Joseph Pritchett. Jeremiah Van Zandt returned a fumble for a nine-yard touchdown to help the Panthers' defense pitch a shutout.

The opportunity to start the season with a dominating win was important to Collingswood coach Mike McKeown. It was something he emphasized to his players after the win.

"We feel really good coming into this year," McKeown said. "A win like this proves to us that the work the kids have been putting in is showing results. Nothing is final or confirmed because we have a whole season ahead of us, but to see immediate results is relieving."

Billy Smith throws four touchdowns as Cedar Creek trounces Matawan

Cedar Creek quarterback Billy Smith (13) maneuvers in the pocket and looks to make a pass as a Matawan defender runs in pursuit in the Battle at the Beach football game played at Ocean City High School in Ocean City, New Jersey on Sunday, August 27, 2023. Joshua Guirguis/D2 Sports Network

With Billy Smith under center, it looked like the Kennedy Space Center was launching rockets as Smith connected with Darius Benjamin through the air for three touchdowns in Cedar Creek's 42-0 rout of Matawan. Alim Parks also snagged a touchdown reception and Justin Castillo added a rushing score after C.J. McAfee opened the second half with an 85-yard kick return touchdown. Sophomore Gyan King made a name for himself on defense with two interceptions.

Smith's first-year jitters as the Pirates' signal caller a season ago looked to be a thing of the past after his performance against Matawan.

"I was too trigger-happy last year," Smith said. "I just wanted to throw the ball and make plays but, in the offseason, I worked on being more patient in the pocket."

Nolan Bradley and Holy Spirit's defense stifles Conwell-Egan (Pa.) in battle of parochial programs

After a high-powered offensive showing from Holy Spirit in 2022, many had questioned how the Spartans would fair this season.

The Spartans' defense made a statement in a 24-7 win over Conwell-Egan (Pa.) of the Philadelphia Catholic League. Capping off almost a full quarter long offensive drive for Spirit, Ty Costabile hit Matthew Abbott from 10 yards out to give the Spartans the first lead of the contest and cap an offensive drive that lasted almost an entire quarter.

On the final play of the first quarter, Nolan Bradley sacked the opposing quarterback in the end zone to give the Spartans a 9-0 lead with a safety which set the tone for the for the rest of the game. Conwell-Egan showed life with Sam Cooper's 95-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to two points and keep Holy Spirit on its heels early in the second quarter. Jahcere Ward turned in another standout Battle at the Beach performance for the second year in a row with 111 rushing yards and a five-yard rushing score before halftime. Costabile connected with Ty Mercado from a yard out for his second passing touchdown to put the game out of reach late in the fourth quarter.

Bradley's defensive effort complemented Costabile's two touchdown passes and put Holy Spirit in the driver's seat. Bradley tallied three tackles for a loss, a sack, and a safety on defense. As a unit, the defense allowed just one play over 10 yards which was Cooper's 95-yard score.

"It wasn't just me," Bradley said. "It was everyone. The whole defense did their job and we just shut them down.

"We weren't ranked last year in the preseason and look at what we did then. We weren't ranked this year, and we plan to do the same thing and prove all of the doubters wrong."

Timber Creek gets revenge with victory over Black Horse Pike Regional school district rival Highland

The classic Black Horse Pike Regional school district rivalry between Timber Creek and Highland, annually dubbed the "Backyard Brawl," concluded the 2023 Battle at the Beach high school football showcase.

Timber Creek dominated Highland, 34-6, to avenge a 19-14 loss to the Tartans last season. The Chargers struck first as Reilly Hoffacker powered his way into the end zone on a quarterback sneak. Highland answered back early in the second quarter with a touchdown pass from Connor Leary to Elijah Thompson in the corner of the end zone on fourth-and-goal. Timber Creek responded by shutting down the Tartans' offense and moving the ball at will on offense with their ground attack. Chase Conway tallied a pair of rushing touchdowns and a game-high 117 rushing yards. Amir Reason-Dallas and Hoffacker each added a rushing touchdown.

"It feels great to beat them," Conway said. "It was great playing here and beating our biggest rival on this stage, but it may have felt a little nicer if the game was on our home field. Regardless, we got the job done this week and it was a cool experience."

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