BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP - The Cedar Creek High School football team knows that whatever predicament it faces, Damon Mitchell is nearby.
The senior quarterback and safety ran for three touchdowns and intercepted a pass as the Pirates beat Buena Regional 27-7 in a matchup of Cape-Atlantic League National Conference contenders. Cedar Creek (4-0) remains undefeated in the conference with St. Augustine Prep (4-0).
The 6-foot-3, 204-pound Mitchell has verbally committed to attend Georgia Tech on a scholarship. His second-quarter interception changed the game's momentum. Whenever the Pirates needed tough yards near the Buena goal line, Mitchell carried the ball.
"He makes plays," Cedar Creek coach Tim Watson said of Mitchell. He's special player. The way he carries himself in school and on the football field we know that's something we can count on."
Both teams entered the game undefeated. Buena (3-1) hurt itself with three first-half turnovers - two interceptions and a fumble - inside the Cedar Creek 5-yard line.
"We're not the same type of offense (Cedar Creek) is," Buena coach Jon Caputo said. "We need to take care of the football and do the little things right."
Still, Buena controlled most of the first half. The Chiefs led 7-6 and appeared to be driving for another score when Mitchell intercepted a pass at the Cedar Creek goal line.
"We felt the defense needed to make a play," Mitchell said. "I challenged the (defensive line) to get to the ball and told them I would make the rest of the play and I was able to do it. We like to have fun on the field."
The fun was just beginning. The interception return was more remarkable than the pick.
Mitchell started up field but at the Cedar Creek 20-yard line would-be Buena tacklers appeared to have him pinned along the sideline. But Mitchell outsprinted his defenders up the field. He appeared headed for the end zone but barely stepped out of bounds while stiff-arming a tackler at the Buena 24-yard line.
"I knew a big block was going to come, and I just kept on going," Mitchell said.
Five plays after the interception, Mitchell scored on a 10-yard run to give Cedar Creek a 12-7 lead with 3 minutes, 8 seconds left in the first half. The Pirates never trailed again.
A goal-line interception by Cedar Creek freshman Ahmir Mitchell - Damon's younger brother - began Cedar Creek's final scoring drive of the first half. The Pirates took over on their own 20-yard line with 1:19 left in the second quarter.
Mitchell ran for 33 yards and threw a 40-yard pass to Nolan Seward on the six-play, 80-yard drive. Mitchell finished the possession with a 9-yard touchdown run with 14.8 seconds left in the half to put Cedar Creek ahead 20-7.
Mitchell ended the game with 83 yards rushing on 11 carries. He is a much more accurate passer than last season. Mitchell competed 13-of-25 passes for 191 yards.
"I worked on passing over the summer and throughout camp with my teammates," he said. "We wanted to have our timing down and the offensive line did a phenomenal job blocking up front tonight. I was able to get the ball out my hands fast."
Cedar Creek controlled the second half mostly behind the running of sophomore Jalil Burrell (19 carries for 92 yards and a touchdown). The Pirates' defense held Buena to 7 yards of offense in the third and fourth quarters. Linebacker Shane Barry sparked the Cedar Creek defense with a sack. Pirates defensive back Caleb Graves recovered a fumble.
The win not only kept Cedar Creek in contention for the conference title but also gave it a boost toward the South Jersey Group II playoffs. The Pirates are off next weekend. But with their undefeated start they put themselves in position to play big games in October and November.
"If we had to write it up before the season, this is where we want to be," Watson said.
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