The Egg Harbor Township High School football team won 11 games last season.

The Eagles reached the South Jersey Group IV final, losing to Cherokee 14-0.

EHT has a renovated stadium with an artificial grass field that is one of the best facilities in the Cape-Atlantic League.

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All that makes the Eagles a team to beat this season.

EHT hosts highly-touted Absegami at 7 p.m. today in the season opener for both teams. The winner becomes the frontrunner for the CAL American Division title.

"Our whole team, our coaching staff is excited," EHT running back and defensive back Stephan Thomas said. "We're excited to see who we are. We want to see what our identity is."

Tonight's game will feature some of the region's top players.

The Eagles graduated several standouts, but return Thomas, linebacker and wide receiver Kevin Marquez and linebacker and fullback Dominic Moody.

Those players form an impressive core. Thomas averaged nearly seven yards per carry and nearly 20 yards per catch last season.

"People think we're not going to be the team we were last year," Thomas said. "We have a chip on our shoulder."

Absegami coach Dennis Scuderi Jr. doesn't think EHT has slipped much from last year, however.

"I saw them (at a scrimmage)," he said, "and I'm not sure if they're just as good as they were a year ago. They have speed everywhere."

Absegami is in the position Egg Harbor was last year. The Braves, who finished 6-4 last season, are No. 3 in The Press' Elite 11 and are predicted to contend for a South Jersey Group IV championship.

The Braves feature senior running back Ben Martin, who is headed to Rutgers University on a scholarship. The Braves have size on the offensive line with 290-pound Steve Schwartz and 280-pound Mike Ottaviano. Speedy sophomore quarterback Rashad Kinlaw has plenty of potential.

EHT will play with a confidence this season that comes from last year's success.

"We're not backing down from anybody," Marquez said.

EHT players and coaches know that their opponents can enhance their credibility with a win over the Eagles this season.

"We're going to get teams' best games," EHT coach Tony DeRosa said. "We told our guys, 'People want to knock you off. If they knock you off, they think they did something good.' We have to work harder than anybody else."

Tonight's setting enhances the game.

EHT played just one game on their home field last season. The Eagles beat Mainland Regional 25-7 last Thanksgiving. All of EHT's other contests were on the road or at St. Augustine Prep. This season they have a true home. EHT is the only local public school with an artificial grass field.

"I think it's an advantage," Thomas said. "Not a lot of teams get to play on the turf. The game is a lot of faster. We love being home."

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