The start of the rivalry between the St. Augustine Prep and Cedar Creek high school football teams should be memorable.
Their first meeting will decide a championship.
St. Augustine (7-2) and Cedar Creek (9-0) kickoff at 10 a.m. at Cedar Creek in Egg Harbor City on Thursday morning. The winner will be the Cape-Atlantic League National Conference champion. Cedar Creek is No. 11 in The Press Elite 11. The teams have never played before. Cedar Creek opened in 2010 and this its first football season in the CAL.
"The one thing you want to be doing at the end of your season," St. Augustine first-year coach Mark Reardon said, "is playing for a championship and playing meaningful games."
The St. Augustine vs. Cedar Creek matchup is part of the local high school Thanksgiving football schedule. Action begins today with three games, including a 7 p.m. matchup between St. Joseph, No. 1 in the Elite 11, and Hammonton.
Both Cedar Creek and St. Augustine have dominated their National Conference competition this season.
"We wanted to be in this game," Cedar Creek coach Tim Watson said. "Without overlooking other teams, when we first looked at the schedule we thought this scenario had a pretty good chance of playing out, and it did."
St. Augustine and Cedar Creek became a Thanksgiving game because both teams wanted a holiday game. St. Augustine played Buena Regional the night before Thanksgiving up until this season. But that game was scheduled for October this year. Cedar Creek because it's new to the CAL did not have a Thanksgiving rivalry game.
"We haven't played on Thanksgiving, and I missed it," said Watson, who was an assistant at Oakcrest and Absegami before taking over Cedar Creek. "It makes Thanksgiving that much more exciting."
Both Cedar Creek and St. Augustine feature some of the region's top skill-position players.
Cedar Creek has scored at least 34 points in seven of their nine games. The Pirates rely on quarterback Damon Mitchell, who has verbally committed to attend Georgia Tech. Mitchell has thrown 17 touchdown passes and run for 16 scores.
Speedy running back Gary Melton has scored 11 touchdowns in the last four games. Wide receiver Nolan Seward has seven touchdown catches.
"Every play for them is a big play," Reardon said. "When there's nothing there, there's something there. We have to tackle well in space."
St. Augustine counters with senior running back Calvin Cass, who has rushed 204 times for 1,740 yards. The senior has scored 34 touchdowns.
"He's put up ridiculous numbers," Watson said of Cass. "He's a tough shifty runner. They love to run him. Even with some of the multiple formations they run, he's still the focal point of their offense.
Both Cedar Creek and St. Augustine played playoff games last weekend.
St. Augustine lost to Don Bosco Prep (Bergen County) - one of the nation's top programs - 42-14 last Friday.
Reardon said the Hermits came out of the Don Bosco game in good shape.
"We need to be playing teams like that," Reardon said of Don Bosco. "You want to evaluate yourself against the best teams you can play. The scoreboard told the tale, but I think we handled ourselves fairly well up there."
Meanwhile, Cedar Creek beat Cinnaminson 34-7 in a South Jersey Group II quarterfinal last Saturday. The Pirates will host Willingboro (6-3) in a semifinal on Dec. 1.
But Watson said the Pirates' only worry right now is St. Augustine.
"This is a game we're focused on winning," he said. "We want to be champions."
Reardon and Watson are both trying to establish their programs among the best in South Jersey. Both have had their share of lopsided wins this season. They want to test their teams against elite competition in a close game. Thursday should provide that. Watson said those games can reveal a team's character.
And to both coaches, finding that out is just as important as Thursday's result.
Contact Michael McGarry:
Game of the week:
St. Augustine Prep (7-2) vs. Cedar Creek (9-0)
When/where: 10 a.m. Thursday at Cedar Creek in Egg Harbor City
Why this game is important: The winner will be the Cape-Atlantic League National Conference champion. This is the first meeting between the schools. Cedar Creek is No. 11 in The Press Elite 11.