Defending Atlantic County Consumer Bowl champion Oakcrest High School was neck and neck with Cedar Creek High School through the first two rounds of their matchup at this year's county-level competition, held Jan. 25 at Cedar Creek. And while the first two rounds were even, the pivotal third round - called the Lightning Round - wasn't, and the second-year Pirates' squad beat last year's champs, 150 points to 75.

But despite the tough loss, the members of Oakcrest's Consumer Bowl team wasted no time feeling sorry for themselves.

"On our way home, we were already planning what we could do differently next year," Oakcrest member Margaret Erickson said. "How we could be better acquainted with the rules and stuff and different situations that would help us get ready.

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Cedar Creek went on to defeat Absegami High School 135-115 in the final round, and, with the Atlantic County title, the Pirates advance to the Southern Region competition, which will be held April 18.

The Consumer Bowl is an annual educational competition for high school students in New Jersey run by the state Division of Consumer Affairs that quizzes students on their knowledge of topics ranging from financial literacy to advertising tricks.

In addition to Oakcrest, Cedar Creek and Absegami High School, Pleasantville High School and St. Joseph High School in Hammonton participated in the tournament.

Oakcrest's team of captain James Townley, Erickson, Raj Patel, Kartik Garg and alternate Neil Philip was blindsided by Cedar Creek's attack in the speed-based Lightning Round, as the Pirates frequently buzzed in before the moderator had finished reading the question, which results in a loss of points in the event of a wrong answer.

Oakcrest won last year with a conservative strategy, but this year, that plan proved their undoing, as Cedar Creek's quickness hit the mark.

"We'll probably change our philosophy a bit," Philip said. "Before, we were really hesitant to buzz in. If you buzz in and you're wrong, you lose points. But that's the only way you win."

It was a combination of nerves and strategy that hampered Oakcrest, team members said. While this year they studied through rote memorization of dense legal briefs, club co-advisers Chaz Wyckoff and Leah McDonnell plan to take a question-based approach to get the team in the mindset to pre-empt its opposition. They also plan on incorporating buzzers and timed challenges into their study.

Additionally, Oakcrest was hurt by its relative inexperience, as this year's team was minus three 2012 graduates from last year's championship team. Additionally, Wyckoff and McDonnell were first-year advisers to the club, as they took over the reins of the Math Club, of which Consumer Bowl is a part, from a teacher now at Cedar Creek.

With three veterans returning and a planned strategy shake-up, the Falcons stand as good a chance as any in the field to win next year. Philip, who has been appointed next year's captain, already has his eye on a few standout Oakcrest scholars to bring into the fold, and if all goes according to plan, the Falcons might just find themselves back on top.

"I think the sky is the limit. Honestly, I think we have a good group," Wyckoff said. "If they put in the time and effort, they're going to be fine."

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