PISCATAWAY — Cedar Creek High School assistant football coach Gary Melton Sr. didn’t need Google Maps to find his way to Rutgers University on Sunday.

“That’s the truth,” he said with a laugh. “I gave everybody else directions.”

The 1987 Absegami High School graduate and Mays Landing resident has made the trip dozens of times over the years. Both Gary and his wife, Vicky, were standout athletes at Rutgers in the early 1990s, and have spent the past three seasons watching son Bo play wide receiver for the Scarlet Knights.

Gary Sr. was back again Sunday, looking on from the sideline as youngest son Malachi played his final high school game, a 25-3 loss to Hillside in the South/Central Group II regional championship game.

Bo, a junior at Rutgers, came out to console the Pirates after the defeat.

“It was a little surreal seeing Malachi out there because he’s the baby of the family,” Gary Sr. said. “It was bugging me out. He was running down the same field as I did and Bo is doing. Now I can say that we’ve all chewed on the same grass.”

Approximately 300 Cedar Creek fans and several hundred more Holy Spirit and St. Joseph supporters made the trek from South Jersey to Rutgers’ SHI Stadium.

No. 2 seed Holy Spirit upset top seed St. Joseph 38-0 to win its first state title since 2012.

The rowdy, vocal group of fans included Cedar Creek senior Frank DeClementi, who is widely regarded as the leader of the Pirates’ cheering section. DeClementi, 17, usually watches games without a shirt and waves a Pirate flag.

He routinely posts videos on TikTok, where he boasts 186,000 followers and has generated more than 4 million likes.

“I left my flag in the car because I didn’t want to lose it on the bus,” DeClementi said. “I was trying to be low-key for this game, so I wore my shirt for the first half, but now I’ve got to change it up. Does anyone have a marker?”

DeClementi was joined by student fans such as juniors Bobby Dougherty, Darren Johnson and Dylan Vergara.

No one minded making the trip to see their favorite team.

“I think it’s phenomenal to watch them play here,” Vergara said. “To be at a high school game in such a huge stadium in amazing. It just makes the game 10 times more exciting.”

Vergara, 16, wore a Cedar Creek T-shirt and carried a home-made, “Let’s Go Pirates” sign.

Dougherty, 17, sported a sweatshirt that served as a tribute to Cedar Creek wide receiver and defensive back Manny Reid. Dougherty had written “MANNY GET AN INTERCEPTION” in bold, green letters on the front.

“My brother Kevin is on the team, but Manny is No. 1 on the field and No. 1 in my heart,” Dougherty said with a laugh. “Manny’s in some of my classes and I’m always joking with him.”

New Rutgers football coach Greg Schiano was spotted on the Cedar Creek sideline during the game.

Once Cedar Creek’s fans departed, Holy Spirit’s supporters filled the same seats to root for the Spartans against St. Joseph of Hammonton in the state Non-Public Group II championship game.

It marked the second straight year the two teams have met for the title. Last year, St. Joe beat Holy Spirit 41-22 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford.

“MetLife was so big,” Holy Spirit senior Joe Glenn said. “I like the atmosphere here because I feel like (the proximity to the field from the stands) brings us closer to our brothers.”

Glenn, 18, was joined in the front row of the bleachers by senior Mike Naticchione, who is considered the Spartans’ top student fan.

When the Spartans ran onto the field before the game, they all trotted over to exchange high fives with Glenn and Naticchione.

“I’ve been a Holy Spirit fan all my life,” Naticcione, 17, said. “I think I was born at Ed Byrnes Stadium.”

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Contact: 609-272-7201

DWeinberg@pressofac.com

Twitter @PressACWeinberg

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