The Buena Regional and Cedar Creek high school football teams spent 2011 preparing for games like tonight's matchup between the undefeated Cape-Atlantic League National Conference contenders.
Cedar Creek (3-0) travels to Buena (3-0) for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
"This game has championship implications," Cedar Creek running back Gary Melton said. "This is the big time."
The winner will remain undefeated in the conference and get a boost toward the South Jersey Group II playoffs.
"Our kids are all wide-eyed and excited about a chance (to play game like this)," Buena coach Jon Caputo said.
Cedar Creek and Buena both finished below .500 last season but both are talented and just needed their younger players to mature and reach their potential.
Cedar Creek opened in 2010. This is the Egg Harbor City school's first senior class. The Pirates played a junior varsity schedule in 2010 and finished 4-5 playing an independent schedule last season. This is Cedar Creek's first season playing a CAL schedule.
"Our kids are excited," Cedar Creek coach Tim Watson said. "They're finally in the Cape-Atlantic League, and they're finally playing some games that mean something."
Meanwhile, Buena Regional played mostly sophomores and junior last season and finished 2-8 under Caputo, who was in his first season. Now, those players are a year older and a year stronger.
Buena hasn't been 3-0 since 2008 when it finished 7-4 for its last winning season.
"When we go out on the field now instead of thinking, it's more having fun," Buena running back Robert Bunton said. "It's not as stressful. You just go and do your job.
Both Buena and Cedar Creek have delivered dominant performances so far this season.
The Pirates have outscored their opponents 113-13. Few teams can match Cedar Creek at the skill positions. Quarterback Damon Mitchell has verbally committed to attend Georgia Tech on a scholarship. He has produced 720 yards of offense this season. Running back Melton and wide receiver
Nolan Seward are part of a speedy Pirates offense that averages 27.5 yards per touchdown. Seven of Cedar Creek's 15 touchdowns have covered at least 20 yards.
"Our game plan is to try to keep them in the park," Caputo said. "You can play well for a couple of snaps, but they can make big plays."
Buena also features a potent and balanced offense. Quarterback Eric Rainear has thrown three touchdown passes. Freshman running back Quadir Albright ran for two touchdowns in a season-opening 20-6 win over Vineland. Bunton scored four touchdowns in a 34-6 victory over Lower Cape May Regional last Friday. Running back and linebacker Luv'Uan Scott has been slowed by an ankle injury but should be completely healthy for tonight, according to Caputo.
"They're a dangerous team," Watson said. "You don't become 3-0 by accident. We have to establish ourselves at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
Cedar Creek in many ways is the glamour team of the National Conference. The Pirates receive a lot of media attention because they are a new school and because Mitchell is one of the state's top college prospects. Cedar Creek and undefeated St. Augustine Prep were the preseason favorites to win the conference.
The Pirates expect to meet a very motivated Buena that wants to grab its share of the headlines.
"We're getting a lot of the talk and the glory," Melton said. "But Buena has been the back saying 'Hey, we're 3-0 also.' "
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