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Cedar Creek uses defense to establish identity

EGG HARBOR CITY - Rumor has it that the Cedar Creek High School football program features an elite defensive unit.

The Pirates outscored their first four opponents — Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Willingboro, Pleasantville and Absegami — 185-0 to begin the 2021 campaign.

However, people continued to debate if the Pirates were a legitimate team. Their first four opponents are a combined 6-13.

All doubt was removed on Saturday as evidenced by the Pirates’ response to critics against Woodrow Wilson.

No. 11 Cedar Creek defeated the seventh-ranked Tigers, 21-8, in a West Jersey Football League Memorial Division showdown.

“Weeks before, we weren’t playing teams (that were) as good,” senior JoJo Bermudez said. “Everybody came out thinking we were gonna lose. We held them to eight points. That’s big for us. This is a big win.”

“We had a lot of slander (directed towards us),” senior running back Ja’Quan Howard added. “‘Oh, they barely faced anybody.’ This game really just set the tone. We came out with the W and I think they put respect on Cedar Creek.”

The Pirates forced three turnovers in the first half en route to a 21-0 lead at intermission. All three turnovers translated to touchdowns.

“Early on, we were just all about getting to the quarterback,” defensive back Zaire Pilgrim said. “We knew he had a good arm, so we just knew our D-line had to get pressure back there and go get him.”

After a scoreless first quarter, Cedar Creek’s Jamal Chapman recovered a fumble at Woodrow Wilson’s 10-yard line to set up first and goal for the Pirates. Two plays later, Howard rushed for a 10-yard touchdown to give Creek a 7-0 lead with 7:24 left in the second quarter.

On Woodrow Wilson’s next possession, Pilgrim intercepted a pass across the middle of the field to set up the Pirates’ next score. Cedar Creek took over on the Tigers’ 45-yard line.

“I believed in the D-line to get the pressure,” Pilgrim said. I knew if (the quarterback) was going to force it, I was gonna go get it.”

JC Landicini proceeded to connect with Bermudez for a 39-yard completion to help set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Howard. Cedar Creek led 14-0 with 4:58 remaining in the first half.

But that wasn’t enough.

For the Pirates, the third time’s the charm.

Woodrow Wilson signal caller Devin Kargman dashed up the middle for what looked like an eventual 33-yard touchdown, until Howard knocked the ball loose at the 2-yard line and Pilgrim recovered it in the end zone for a touchback.

11 plays later, Landicini connected with Elijah Smalls for a 14-yard touchdown to give Cedar Creek a 21-0 lead with 0:58 left in the second quarter.

The Pirates’ defensive prowess was a testament to the hard work they’ve put in prior to the 2021-2022 school year.

“Since the summer, we’ve just been getting after it,” Pilgrim said. “We knew we had to keep bringing it every play. We know this was a good, hard win. We’re just gonna get after it next week, too.”

Howard finished with two rushing touchdowns and a forced fumble.

“We worked all week for this,” Howard said. “Our defense — I feel like that’s something special we got this year. A whole bunch of athletes that fly to the ball and want to make plays. It was definitely a statement win.”

Bermudez finished with six receptions for 93 yards.

The senior wide receiver currently holds scholarship offers from Central Michigan, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple, Tennessee, UConn and UMass.

Bermudez also says that he has generated interest from Georgia.

“I still have good contact with Georgia,” Bermudez said. “I talk to Temple a lot about (playing) DB. That’s different for me because I’m a wideout. That’s about it. I’ve just been trying to focus on my schoolwork.”

For now, Bermudez gets to take a Sunday break from schoolwork and enjoy the Pirates’ signature win.

And begin to prepare for next week’s task.

“We’re sleeping on this (win),” Bermudez said. “After tonight, this win is over with. We’re just ready for our next opponent.”

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