EGG HARBOR CITY - The Cedar Creek High School football team played its first varsity football game Saturday afternoon.
So did Bobby O'Donnell of Lower Cape May Regional.
O'Donnell left the field with better memories.
His interception helped propel the Caper Tigers to a 20-13 win. Lower running back Frank Ziegler rushed for 154 yards and three touchdowns.
"I was really nervous," O'Donnell said, "But I actually thought I played well. I made that interception. It was nice."
The pick came on Cedar Creek's first possession of the second half with Lower trailing 6-0. O'Donnell reached up with one hand, tipped the ball and then caught it at the Cedar Creek 43-yard line.
"I saw the quarterback let it go," O'Donnell said. "I made a gamble, and I actually caught it."
He returned it to the Cedar Creek 5-yard line. Two plays later, Ziegler scored on a 1-yard run and the game was tied. Lower controlled the contest from that point.
Fans nearly filled Cedar Creek's home bleachers on a sunny, steamy day to watch the school's first varsity football game. The school's nickname is the Pirates and the crowd sang a souped-up version of the song "A Pirate's Life for Me" after Cedar Creek touchdowns.
Running back Gary Melton scored the school's first touchdown on a 3-yard run with 3 minutes, 19 seconds left in the first quarter to give the Pirates a 6-0 lead.
Cedar Creek High School opened just last year. The Pirates are young. There are no seniors in the school and several freshmen started Saturday.
"There's a ton of positives," Cedar Creek coach Tim Watson said after the game. "We would have just liked to end up on the winning side of things."
Saturday also marked O'Donnell's first official game. The 5-foot-10 senior is best known for playing basketball for the Caper Tigers, but he came out for the football team in part to be with his friends.
"I also wanted to get a good workout in for basketball season and get stronger," he said.
O'Donnell's interception gave the Caper Tigers momentum. Lower then took advantage of excellent field position.
A botched Cedar Creek punt that actually lost three yards gave Lower the ball at the Pirates' 30-yard line. Three plays later, Ziegler scored on an 8-yard run and Lower led 12-6.
Ziegler's final touchdown came in the fourth quarter on a 56-yard run. He spun away from several would-be tacklers and sprinted to the end zone.
"We knew we needed to come back and push through," Ziegler said of Lower's second-half comeback. "We came out in the third quarter all fired up."
Down 14 points with 6:56 left in the game, Cedar Creek quarterback Damon Mitchell (123 rushing yards and 107 passing yards) tried to rally the Pirates.
His 4-yard touchdown pass to Nolan Seward cut Lower's lead to 20-13 with 3:57 left.
The Pirates also drove into Lower's territory in the final minute, but the Caper Tigers' Mike Mulligan intercepted a pass at the Lower 30-yard line to clinch the victory. That was the last of the five turnovers Cedar Creek committed.
"We fought. We battled, but I feel we kind of let one slip away here," Watson said. "I don't feel like they ever drove the field on us. We gave them the ball on short fields with those turnovers."
Despite the defeat, Watson was encouraged by the Pirates' effort.
"I love the kids we have," he said. "and I feel good about the future."
Contact Michael McGarry:
Lower Cape May 0 0 12 8 – 20
Cedar Creek 6 0 0 7 – 13
CK – Melton 3 run (kick failed)
LCM – Ziegler 1 run (kick blocked)
LCM – Ziegler 8 run (run failed)
LCM – Ziegler 56 run (Hall pass from Mulligan)
CK – Seward 4 pass from Mitchell (Kruger kick)
Rushing – Ziegler 22-154 LCM. Mitchell 16-123 CK.
Passing – Mulligan 2-9-1-21 LCM. Mitchell 12-29-4-107 CK
Record – Lower Cape May 1-0; Cedar Creek 0-1