EGG HARBOR CITY - Running back Calvin Cass of St. Augustine Prep celebrated the Hermits' dramatic win over Cedar Creek High School with a football under his arm Thursday.
That looked right. Cass seemed to touch the ball on nearly every St. Augustine offensive play.
The senior rushed 53 times for 253 yards and three touchdowns as the Hermits won the Cape-Atlantic League National Conference with a 41-40 overtime win over previously undefeated Cedar Creek.
Cass scored on a 7-yard run in overtime. Kyle Snow kicked the winning extra point.
"I'm tired, but it was worth it," Cass said. "This game meant everything to us. We ended with a lot of heart. We played as hard as we've ever played."
The win gave the Hermits (8-2) their first conference title since 2009. St. Augustine finished with losing records the past two seasons.
St. Augustine overcame a stellar effort from Cedar Creek running back Gary Melton, who rushed for 129 yards and scored three second-half touchdowns.
Cass was at his busiest in the second half. He carried the ball 10 times as the Hermits drove 69 yards in 12 plays to tie the game with 1 minute, 39 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Cass scored the tying touchdown on a 10-yard run.
St. Augustine has made no secret all season that its goal is to get the ball to the 5-foot-11, 195-pound Cass as much as possible.
He finished the season with 297 carries for 2,113 yards.
"Ultimately this program is going to be about running the football and toughness," St. Augustine first-year coach Mark Reardon said, "and that's what Calvin is."
Fans packed the home and visiting bleachers at Cedar Creek to watch the first ever meeting between the Pirates and St. Augustine. The two entered the game tied for the CAL National Conference lead. Cedar Creek (9-1) is No. 11 in The Press Elite 11.
Both teams wowed the fans with big plays. Seven touchdowns covered at least 20 yards.
The speedy Melton gave Cedar Creek the lead and the momentum with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown runs.
He scored on a 13-yard sweep with 11:25 left in the fourth quarter to tie the game. Melton then scored on a 49-yard sweep with 7:11 left in the fourth quarter to put the Pirates up 34-27.
But St. Augustine didn't panic.
"All season we practiced not to get too high or too low," Cass said. "We keep a level head and remember anything is possible."
The Hermits forced overtime. Each team receives the ball at their opponent's 25-yard line in overtime, and each team is guaranteed at least one possession in overtime.
Cedar Creek had the ball first. The Pirates scored in five plays behind the running of quarterback Damon Mitchell, who snuck across the goal line from a yard out. But the Pirates missed the extra point.
To no one's surprise, St. Augustine gave the ball to Cass on its overtime possession. He carried on every snap of the five-play drive.
After Cass' 7-yard touchdown run tied the game, Snow trotted on the field to attempt the extra point. The junior had kicked two 23-yard field goals in the first half.
"I tried not think about anything," Snow said of the extra-point attempt. "I just looked down at the ball and kicked it like any other kick."
Snow had to kick the extra point twice. His first attempt was good but was waived off because officials penalized Cedar Creek for an illegal substitution before the snap.
"I saw the flag go up," Snow said. "They said, 'Rekick it,' and I said, 'Let's do it again.' "
Snow's second attempt was also good. The Hermits rushed the field in celebration and mobbed Snow.
"I don't even know what happened," he said. "I was on the ground before I knew it."
Meanwhile, Cedar Creek began to deal with their first loss of the season.
"If I step outside my body it was a great high school football game," Cedar Creek coach Tim Watson said. "But we made too many mistakes. Part of building a program is to see what it's like to have someone else celebrate on your field. We can learn from that and see how that feels."
Cedar Creek won't have to wait long to put those lessons to use. The Pirates host Willingboro in a South Jersey Group II semifinal on Dec. 1.
For St. Augustine, this season marks a revitalization of its program. The Hermits finished 4-6 in both 2011 and 2010. The defeats of the past two seasons made Thursday's win even more special.
"Our road to this victory, especially for our seniors, was very emotional," Cass said. "It was a struggle, but with the way it happened I wouldn't have written a better story."
Contact Michael McGarry:
St. Augustine Prep 7 13 7 7 7 - 41
Cedar Creek 7 6 6 15 6 - 40
CK-Graves 45 pass from Mitchell (Kruger kick)
SA-Nelson 55 pass from Hughes (Snow kick)
CK-Sandfort 56 fumble return (kick missed)
SA-Cass 33 run (Snow kick)
SA-Snow 23 field goal
SA-Snow 23 field goal
CK-Melton 40 pass from Mitchell (kick missed)
SA-Nelson 20 pass from Hughes (Snow kick)
CK-Melton 13 run (Melton run)
CK-Melton 49 run (Kruger kick)
SA-Cass 10 run (Snow kick)
CK-Mitchell 1 run (kick missed)
SA-Cass 7 run (Snow kick)
Rushing-Melton 12-129, Mitchell 12-38 CK; Cass 53-253 SA.
Passing-Mitchell 15-25-1-211 CK; Hughes 10-21-0-153 SA.
Receiving-Melton 2-37, Graves 7-73, Seward 5-82 CK; Nelson 5-106 SA.
Records-St. Augustine 8-2; Cedar Creek 9-1