Cedar Creek rallies from down 22, secures first regional crown
PISCATAWAY - The Cedar Creek High School football team’s championship aspirations were fading fast.
After committing three turnovers on their first three possessions, the Pirates found their ship sinking as they trailed Woodrow Wilson 22-0 only four minutes and 32 seconds into the contest.
They didn’t waver.
Cedar Creek rallied back and eventually clung to a one-point lead with 10 seconds left to play.
This time, the ship remained afloat.
Senior linebacker C.J. Resto stopped Naz’sir Oglesby just inches short of the goal line to secure the Pirates’ 35-34 victory over Woodrow Wilson in the NJSIAA South/Central Group 3 Regional Championship at SHI Stadium on Saturday night.
“As much as I like to have the ball in my hands, there’s no one better than our defense,” senior quarterback J.C. Landicini said. “We put that first seven on the scoreboard (and) I knew we were gonna put up more the rest of the game. I’m still speechless right now.”
Landicini finished with an astounding five passing touchdowns and 288 yards on 25-for-43 passing.
Cedar Creek scored 14 unanswered points to cut the deficit to eight in the early portions of the second quarter. Subsequently, their rally was halted by an interception in the end zone by Woodrow Wilson’s Michael Estremera on a drive that could’ve potentially tied the game at halftime.
The Tigers continued to fire on all cylinders and opened the second half with a 12-play, 5:34 drive that resulted in a 2-yard rushing touchdown by Devin Kargman.
Cedar Creek didn’t shy away and countered with a quick drive that generated a 12-yard touchdown from Landicini to Zac Ricci.
Insert the big plays.
Estremera returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown to give Woodrow Wilson a 34-21 lead with 3:50 left in the third quarter. JoJo Bermudez responded with a 70-yard receiving touchdown for the Pirates on the first play from scrimmage on the next drive.
Three touchdowns in 30 seconds.
Cedar Creek turned the tide when Landicini connected with Ricci again for a 51-yard touchdown with 2:27 remaining in the fourth quarter. It gave the Pirates their first and final lead of the game.
“The linebacker came up on the drag route,” Ricci said. “It was me versus the safety — he couldn’t catch me. I caught the ball, used my speed, and he couldn’t catch me. I just went down the sideline and scored a touchdown to take the lead.”
“It felt great,” Ricci added. “It felt great to celebrate with my teammates after that, honestly.”
Ricci finished the contest with six receptions for 91 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Bermudez, a Cincinnati commit, capped a stellar career with 13 receptions for 136 yards and a touchdown in the win. Bermudez is South Jersey’s all-time receptions leader and single-season receiving yards record holder.
“We worked very hard for this moment,” Bermudez said. “It definitely feels good because when we came here as sophomores, we got blown out (by Hillside). To come here and get a win, that’s a great feeling. I’m from Egg Harbor City born and raised. It’s a very great feeling. I put on for my city.”
Saturday evening’s victory marked the second time the Pirates defeated Woodrow Wilson this season. The latter of the two proved to be much sweeter.
“We beat a really good team twice,” Cedar Creek coach James Melody said. “It’s difficult to do — that’s a cliché thing that it’s hard to beat a team twice. We ran through a really hard schedule. I really do believe that our division this year was the best in the state for public school football. We’re battle tested.”
The Tigers finished the season with a 9-3 record and secured a sectional title under the direction of first-year head coach Brandon Bather.
These guys are an A class group of guys,” Bather said. “They played ‘til the end. They definitely deserved more than what they got, but this group set the tone. Next year starts tomorrow.”
On the contrary, the Pirates’ triumph improved their record to 13-0 and secured the first undefeated season in program history.
“It was a heavyweight fight and it went down to the finish,” Melody said. “I think we got to be up there with the best public school team in the state of New Jersey right now. I say it humbly. Our resume speaks for itself to be 13-0.”