Ben Keating's work on the line helping Cedar Creek roll up points
Cedar Creek High School's Ben Keating likely will play a major role in today's South Jersey Group II football title game.
But fans making the trip to Rowan University in Glassboro for the 1 p.m. game won't hear Keating's name from the public-address announcer.
The senior left tackle won't be in the boxscore the following day.
Keating has been one of Cedar Creek's unsung heroes all season long and a big reason why the Pirates are playing in a sectional final in just their second year of playing varsity football.
Much of the talk surrounding the game with defending champ West Deptford has centered around the Pirates' stable of talented players at the skill positions.
Quarterback Damon Mitchell, who has verbally committed to play at Georgia Tech next season, has thrown for 1,823 yards and 21 touchdowns while running for another 17 this season.
"I know every time that he's in the paper, it's basically the same as if I were in the paper," Keating said. "Seeing him succeed is basically me succeeding."
Gary Melton has emerged as one of the area's most dynamic players with 16 rushing touchdowns and nine receiving.
Nolan Seward and Caleb Graves are just two of the team's weapons at receiver.
"When it comes to the end of the game and my back is clean you have to give kudos to those guys up front," Mitchell said. "They are the ones that aren't scared to get their hands in the dirt, fingers jammed and bloody and all that. It's great seeing what they do.
"They know the athletes we have back there, so when they spring us we all have a big party in the end zone together."
The Pirates hope to have a few end-zone parties today.
Keating and Mitchell grew up playing against each other in youth football - Keating in Egg Harbor City and Mitchell in Mays Landing.
The two became teammates for the first time as freshmen at Oakcrest and have become friends throughout the years.
Each went to Cedar Creek when the school opened in the fall of 2010.
Keating doesn't mind taking the occasional dig at some of the so-called skilled position guys.
"It's fun being the gritty grinders out there on the football field," Keating said. "The ones who aren't afraid to get dirty instead of the divas scoring all the touchdowns."
Mitchell said he makes sure to take care of his linemen.
"Everybody has watched movies where the quarterback yelled at the offensive lineman and the next play the lineman is like, 'Go ahead,' " Mitchell said with a smile. "I don't want any of that going on."
West Deptford (11-0) is ranked No. 4 in the Press Elite 11 and more than accustomed to playing football this time of year. The Eagles are making their ninth appearance in the sectional final in the last 11 seasons and bring a 20-game winning streak into today's game.
Keating didn't seem worried.
"This is a dream come true," he said. "Since day our sophomore year before Cedar Creek even opened, this is what we've been aiming for."
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