EVESHAM TOWNSHIP - The Egg Harbor Township High School football team is establishing a tradition it would rather do without.
Cherokee's physical play on both sides of the ball and some uncharacteristic EHT errors doomed the Eagles to a 28-7 loss in a South Jersey Group IV semifinal game Friday.
Cherokee, No. 3 in The Press Elite 11 and the top seed in the group, will try to defend its sectional title against Oakcrest, probably on Dec. 4 at 1 p.m.
Friday's loss marked the third straight year EHT was knocked out of the playoffs by the Chiefs.
"What's frustrating was we knew exactly what they were doing and when they were doing it," senior captain Stephan Thomas said. "They outplayed us. They didn't re-invent the wheel. They ran power and toss - they're just good at doing what they do."
Cherokee marched down the field late in the second quarter holding a 7-0 lead. The EHT defense was able to stuff Cherokee quarterback Andrew Martin to force a fourth-and-2 on EHT's 21-yard line.
Cherokee coach P.J. Mehigan sent out the field-goal unit, but a hard count drew the Eagles offside, extending the drive.
Martin connected with Michael Zeuli two plays later for a 15-yard touchdown.
"I don't know what it is, but they're a great team," senior Kevin Marquez said. "You can't take anything away from them. They came out hard."
Cherokee was able to hold Thomas and Marquez to 11 and 17 yards rushing, respectively, and the Eagles to only 36 yards as a team. The Chiefs, meanwhile, had four different players with at least 30 yards rushing and finished with 230 in the game.
"What we try to do is make you cover everybody," Mehigan said. "That way, even if you take away one guy hopefully another guy is open and I think that has been a big part of our success."
Cherokee's defense truly was its best offense.
"They have a lot weapons offensively, so if we're on the field, they're off as far as their offense," Mehigan said. "We felt like if we could move the chains and run the clock, we'd be in a good situation."
EHT had run only three plays for 7 yards in the third quarter as time wound down when it finally got the spark it was looking for.
Marquez stepped in front of a Martin pass and ran it back 65 yards for the team's only touchdown.
"We got back in the game there," Marquez said. "We struck them, but they responded and came back with another touchdown."
Cherokee took the ball and went 57 yards on eight plays for the touchdown.
After a turnover on downs, Cherokee's Nick Follet broke through the line for a 30-yard touchdown to put the game away.
Marquez led the defense with 10 tackles. Thomas had eight.
The Eagles crossed midfield only twice in the game - once with 33 seconds left in the first half and once again with 1 minute, 40 seconds left in the game. The Chiefs were in a prevent defense both times.
"We didn't get to run a lot of offense because they had the ball for the majority of the game," Thomas said. "When we did start moving the ball the clock was against us."
The Eagles will now shift their focus to their Thanksgiving Day rivalry game against Mainland Regional.
"We're going to go all-out," Thomas said. "We lost this game, but we're going to go out with a win as seniors. We're going to play them harder than ever."
Notes: Cherokee beat EHT 34-18 in the quarterfinals in 2008 and 14-0 in last season's final. ... Cherokee is now 30-3 since 2008.
Contact John O'Kane:
Egg Harbor Township 0 0 7 0-7
Cherokee 7 7 0 14-28
C-Martin 2 run (Coyle kick)
C-Zeuli 15 pass by Martin (Coyle kick)
EHT-Marquez 65 INT return (Mason kick)
C-Williams 2 run (Coyle kick)
C-Follet 30 run (Coyle kick)
TEAM STATISTICS EHT C
Rushing 36 230
Passing 101 62
First downs 10 20
Penalties 2-15 2-20
Turnovers 2 1
Rushing-EHT, Marquez 4-17, Thomas 5-11, Kopistecki 8-6, Moody 2-2. Cherokee, Williams 18-76, Bonilla 12-60, Follet 7-61, Zeuli 3-30, Martin 5-3.
Passing-EHT, Kopistecki 11-27-101-2. Cherokee, Martin 6-11-62-1.
Receiving-EHT, Marquez 4-43, Bolden 2-28, Thomas 4-26, Moody 1-4. Cherokee, Follet 2-30, Zeuli 2-15, Rodgers 1-14, Bonilla 1-3.
Records-EHT 6-4, Cherokee 10-0.