EGG HARBOR CITY - Ahmir Mitchell of the Cedar Creek High School football team sat the first half of Saturday afternoon's game against Ocean City because of a violation of team rules.
The first time the sophomore touched the ball in the third quarter he fumbled.
The next three times he touched it he scored.
Mitchell ran for two touchdowns and caught a touchdown pass to propel the Pirates to a 21-0 win in the season opener for both Cape-Atlantic League National Conference schools. Mitchell's touchdowns averaged 54 yards.
"It was hard (sitting out the first half)," Mitchell said. "But I took it like a man and cheered my team on. It was hard not contributing, but I was thinking to myself, 'When I get in there I'm going to try to take over.' "
Mitchell's performance establishes him as a player to watch in South Jersey. The 6-foot-2, 190-pound Mitchell lined up at running back and wide receiver on offense and played safety on defense.
"We knew how he would play once he got it," Cedar Creek coach Tim Watson said. "He gives us the big play. There's not a more explosive guy around."
Mitchell played as a freshman but he was overlooked because Cedar Creek had so many talented skill position players, including Ahmir's older brother Damon, who started at quarterback. Damon led the Pirates to a 10-2 record and the South Jersey Group II final last year. He was The Press Player of the Year and is now a freshman at Arkansas.
Like most teams on the first weekend of the season, both Ocean City and Cedar Creek entered their first game with questions.
Cedar Creek graduated several standouts. Ocean City finished 3-7 last year, but the Red Raiders won three of their last five games and wanted to see Saturday if they could build on that momentum.
Ocean City had its chances in the first half. The Red Raiders had the ball inside the Cedar Creek 30-yard line three times in the but couldn't score.
"I told the team we need to learn how to win games," Ocean City coach Kevin Smith said. "We played a great first half, but didn't take advantage of those opportunities. We missed on little things. We missed a couple of assignments."
Ahmir Mitchell almost immediately turned the game in Cedar Creek's favor when he entered the scoreless contest in the third quarter.
But on his first carry he fumbled the handoff. A bad day was seeming to get worst.
"I had to shake it off," Mitchell said. "We just say to flush bad plays, move on and make a better play."
Mitchell did just that. On his second carry, he sprinted down the sideline for a 69-yard touchdown to give the Pirates a 7-0 lead with 10 minutes, 24 seconds left in the third quarter.
On Cedar Creek's next possession, Mitchell leaped over two Ocean City defenders to catch a 28-yard touchdown pass from Pirates freshman quarterback Jesse Milza.
Mitchell's final touchdown came on Cedar Creek's next possession when he ran 65 yards up the middle to give the Pirates a 21-0 lead with 5:06 left in the third quarter.
The Pirates played with more energy and confidence with Mitchell in the game.
Cedar Creek defensive backs Gary Voss and Zack Newman helped the Pirates' defense earn the shutout. Voss intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble. Newman intercepted two passes in the second half.
"Our defense is going to be the backbone of our football team this year," Watson said. "We want to create turnovers."
If Mitchell continues to play with the skill he showed Saturday, comparisons between him and Damon are inevitable.
"They're two different kids," Watson said. "I think (Ahmir) has a chance to be just as special as (Damon). I think (Damon) showed him what you need in terms of work ethic and focus to become the best player you can be."
Ahmir said he telephoned Damon on Friday night.
"He was telling me to do what I can when I get in there in the second half," Ahmir said.
Ahmir then said with a smile that he couldn't wait to make another call to his older brother Saturday night and let him know exactly what he did.
Contact Michael McGarry:
Ocean City 0 0 0 0 – 0
Cedar Creek 0 0 21 0 – 21
CK – Mitchell 69 run (Moran kick)
CK – Mitchell 28 pass from Milza (Moran kick) CK – Mitchell 65 run (Moran kick)
Rushing – Woolley 27-102 OC; Burrell 19-97, Mitchell 5-128 CK.
Passing – Keys 3-23-2-35 OC; Milza 5-11-1-43 CK.
Receiving – Fahy 3-35 OC.; Mitchell 1-28 CK.
Records – Ocean City 0-1; Cedar Creek 1-0