Things can only get easier for the Cumberland Regional High School football team.

The young, winless Colts have played the best southern New Jersey has to offer so far.

"It's been a baptism by fire," Cumberland coach Tom Lake said.

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Cumberland opened with a 35-0 loss to Delsea Regional, No. 2 in The Press' Elite 11, on Sept. 11.

The Colts played Glassboro, No. 11 in the Elite 11 and winners of 27 straight, last Saturday. Glassboro pulled away in the second half and won 29-7.

Tonight the Colts (0-3) host Williamstown, No. 1 in the Elite 11. Kickoff is 7 p.m.

Lake was asked why his team hasn't played the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

"They're trying to get on our schedule," he said with a laugh.

It was just the luck of the draw that Cumberland started the season with such difficult opponents. The Colts are making the best of their difficult start. Cumberland qualified for the South Jersey Group III playoffs in 2007-08, but nearly every starter from those teams graduated after last season.

"It's a life lesson," said senior wide receiver and defensive back Jordan Bray, one of Cumberland's few veterans. "We still work hard in practice. We still play hard."

Lake is encouraged by the way Cumberland has played.

"Delsea is all they're cracked up to be," Lake said. "But if we tackled better early in the first half, the game could have been closer."

Cumberland followed the Delsea game with a 17-3 loss to Highland Regional (1-2).

"We lost a little focus," Lake said. "That can happen with a young team. That's my fault. We just made too many mistakes."

Cumberland played Glassboro tough last Saturday. The Colts trailed 14-7 in the third quarter.

"Our kids started to believe that they belong in the game," Lake said.

But Cumberland faded as the game wore on. Several players got banged up.

"I started running out of guys who were varsity players," Lake said.

The Colts might face the toughest opponent tonight. Williamstown (2-0) is a South Jersey Group IV power and defending Tri-County Conference Royal Division champion. Williamstown has outscored opponents 79-3.

One of the benefits of playing southern New Jersey's best is that the Colts now know what it takes to win at that level.

"We have to play four solid quarters," Bray said. "Three quarters is not going to get it done. A half is not going to get it done. One quarter is not going to get it done. We have to play four quarters."

Cumberland's schedule seases up slightly after tonight. Games against perennial Tri-County Conference powers Kingsway Regional (2-1) and Gloucester Catholic (2-1) loom on Oct. 16 and Oct. 24, respectively.

Few coaches are more optimistic or enthusiastic as Lake. He is convinced the Colts will be better for this tough stretch.

"I think they've learned that if we clean up the things we can control," Lake said, "we can play with anybody."

E-mail Michael McGarry:

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