SALEM — The Cedar Creek High School football team improved to 2-0 Saturday afternoon.
The Pirates, however, aren’t getting carried away with themselves.
Cedar Creek dominated the first three quarters with an aggressive defense and a big-play offense and beat host Salem 34-12 in a West Jersey Football League interdivision game.
“We’re starting to find our identity,” Cedar Creek coach Tim Watson said. “But we’re still a work in progress, like everybody at this stage.”
Cedar Creek quarterback Louie Barrios threw three touchdown passes and ran for a score. Malachi “Max” Melton and Manny Reid each scored a touchdown and on defense were a constant presence in the Salem backfield. The Rams finished with just 11 rushing yards.
Cedar Creek scored on four of its first five possessions. The Pirates’ touchdowns averaged 38.8 yards.
“We have a lot of playmakers,” Reid said. “I’m excited about that. Anyone of us could break it for a long touchdown. It’s motivating, but you’re also like, ‘That’s my brother scoring, so let me try harder to make this block.’”
Saturday’s game was played at one of the most unique settings in South Jersey. Salem’s grass field is located in a neighborhood near downtown. It’s a setting that reminds one of an era when an entire town rallied around the high school team.
The Rams, who reached last season’s South Jersey Group I final, are a perennial power and have produced some of South Jersey’s top running backs, including former Baltimore Colts great Lydell Mitchell and current University of Wisconsin standout and Heisman Trophy candidate Jonathan Taylor.
Cedar Creek controlled Saturday’s contest with a defense that at times featured eight sophomores. The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Reid and the 5-11, 176-pound Melton lined up as edge linebackers on opposite sides of the line.
“We’re undersized, but with being undersized comes speed,” said Melton, who has verbally committed to attend Purdue University on an NCAA Division I football scholarship. “We like to use a lot of speed on the edges. We just get to the quarterback as fast as we can, make him hesitate and make him throw a bad ball. That’s our game plan.”
Reid and Melton each had two tackles for losses. Sophomore inside linebacker CJ Reston also made two tackles for losses. Sophomore defensive back Zac Ricci intercepted a pass.
“We just studied a lot of film,” Reid said. “We just fly around to the ball and put in as much effort as we can.”
On offense, Cedar Creek turned short passes into big gains.
Melton caught a swing pass, evaded some defenders and sprinted to the end zone for a 45-yard touchdown.
Jeremy Taylor caught a screen pass and turned it into a 90-yard score. Reid scored on a 47-yard sweep in which he outsprinted defenders to the sideline and then turned up field.
“We have a chance from a skill-position standpoint to have one of the best groups we’ve had, and we’ve had some good ones,” Watson said. “We feel like it’s a nice little cast.”
Cedar Creek is coming off a 4-5 season. The Pirates beat Willingboro 24-20 in their season opener last weekend, and that win combined with the Salem victory has established Cedar Creek as a S.J. Group II contender.
The Pirates will host Camden, No. 3 in The Press Elite 11, next Saturday at noon. Camden reached last season’s S.J. Group II final and opened this season with a 24-0 win over Winslow Township on Friday night. The Pirates have never beaten Camden.
“This feels great, but there’s always next week” Melton said. “It’s just 2-0. We’re not feeling (happy) yet. We still have the same grind. We’re not going to change that one bit. We’re just getting ready for Camden.”
Cedar Creek 20 7 7 0 — 34
Salem 0 0 0 12 — 12
CK — Richardson 11 pass from Barrios (kick missed)
CK — Barrios 1 run (Manning kick)
CK — Melton 45 pass from Barrios (Manning kick)
CK — Taylor 90 pass from Barrios (Manning kick)
CK — Reid 47 run (Manning kick)
SA — Street 28 pass from Coates (kick failed)
SA — Bentley 1 run (kick failed)
Rushing — Cedar Creek, Lucian 7-52; Salem, Bentley 16-67.
Passing: — Cedar Creek, Barrios 7-16-0-242; Salem, Coates 6-10-0-112
Receiving — Cedar Creek, Bermudez 3-80; Salem, Street 7-128
Records — Cedar Creek 2-0; Salem 0-2