EVESHAM TOWNSHIP - The Egg Harbor Township High School football players knew the weather was going to be bad Saturday. What they got was worse than bad.
With temperatures in the mid-30s, swirling winds and rain that turned into snow and sleet early in the game, the Eagles' high-powered offense struggled to move the ball in a 14-0 loss to Cherokee in the South Jersey Group IV championship game.
"I didn't think it was going to be this bad," EHT quarterback Scott Miller said. "I thought it was going to rain, but I didn't think it was going to be this cold, with snow and everything."
Miller had completed more than half his passes and averaged 105 yards in the Eagles' previous two playoff games. But he was 7-of-22 for 47 yards with two interceptions Saturday. Several passes went off receivers' hands.
"It's hard to catch in the rain," receiver Joe Magosin said. "The gloves are wet, the ball's wet. It's just all slippery. We're better in better conditions."
Magosin said he had heard that the rain was supposed to start later in the day.
"I didn't know it was going to be raining as soon as we started, so no, I don't think we were prepared for it," Magosin said.
The passing game wasn't the only thing affected. The game was billed as the Eagles' speed vs. Cherokee's power.
The puddles of mud around the field served as reminders that it could have been worse if not for Cherokee's artificial turf field.
Still, the cold weather was a factor as the Eagles, No. 1 in The Press' Elite 11, were held to 49 yards rushing.
"(It had) a big effect," running back/wide receiver Tejay Johnson said. "A lot of people didn't have as much speed because muscles are frozen."
Johnson, a senior who has scholarship offers from Nebraska and Cincinnati, among others, rushed for minus-2 yards after averaging 71 per game coming in.
Cherokee, meanwhile, embraced the conditions. The Chiefs, No. 3 in the Elite 11, already had played several games in wet weather this year, including their South Jersey quarterfinal win over Eastern.
"Our game plan remains consistent regardless of the weather situation," Chiefs running back Sean Farrell said.
Cherokee's offense revolves around the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Farrell, and he delivered with punishing runs through the middle of the line. He finished with 116 yards rushing.
"(The weather) helped us," Chiefs coach P.J. Mehigan said. "I'm not going to lie to you. No question about it. We probably tend to run the ball a little more than they do. They want to pass a little bit more. Our game plan is really ball control, field position, running the ball, so this kind of weather helps out.
"It is what it is. You're playing in December. You never know what you're going to get weather-wise."
EHT tried not to make excuses. Coach Tony DeRosa refused to acknowledge that the weather played any part. But it was undeniable.
"I don't want to lie, it affected the game," Miller said. "But we needed to dig deep and fight through adversity, and today, on this given day, this weather, Cherokee was the better team."
As the Chiefs celebrated their first South Jersey title since 2005, they didn't even seem to notice the wintry mix pouring down on them.
"It's 80 degrees and sunny right now," Farrell said.
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