PLEASANTVILLE — Pleasantville High School’s football team relied on its defense to earn a big victory Friday night.
The Greyhounds forced five turnovers, including a key interception late in the game, en route to an 18-6 win over Cedar Creek in a West Jersey Football League interdivisional contest.
“This is a real credit to the kids and the coaches," Pleasantville coach Chris Sacco said. "To beat a very good, very well-coached team like that is huge for us. We still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do, but this is great for our confidence.”
A large crowd showed up to see two of the area’s top teams. Fans filled the bleachers on both sides and stood three deep along the fence.
Cedar Creek (4-2) entered the game ranked No. 10 in The Press Elite 11. Pleasantville (4-1) is also considered a top contender for a playoff spot.
Trailing by six points, Cedar Creek used an interception by sophomore defensive back Zac Ricci to move into contention to at least tie the game, but Pleasantville senior defensive back Sencere Brinson foiled the comeback with an interception at the 3-yard line.
“I studied that play all week, and as soon as I recognized what they were going to do, I was ready and I just made the play," Brinson said. "We knew what kind of players they have, but we worked so hard in practice.”
Pleasantville senior running back Ernest Howard broke loose for a 70-yard gain, then scored his second touchdown of the game on a 4-yard run to give the Greyhounds a two-score advantage with 5 minutes, 10 seconds left in regulation.
Despite the talent on both offenses, it was the defenses that provided most of the highlights. Cedar Creek, which entered averaging 35 points per game, was held to just one TD by a swarming Greyhounds defense led by linebackers Ernest and Jaquan Howard (no relation).
Cedar Creek hurt itself with turnovers, losing four fumbles and throwing the interception.
The Greyhounds capitalized on the first fumble to take a 6-0 lead.
Ernest Howard capped a 5-play, 30-yard drive by grabbing a direct snap and bulling into the end zone from 6 yards out with 6 minutes, 9 seconds left in the first quarter.
“When they tied the score, we didn’t panic. We’ve faced adversity before and we know how to deal with it," Howard said. "The fourth quarter was huge for us. We knew we had a chance to close it out.
“Our whole defense played great. They have a lot of talented players, but we were just flying around and getting to the ball and that helped us get those turnovers.”
Greyhounds junior punter Zahir Washington also had an impact. His 47-yard kick in the first quarter was downed at the Cedar Creek 1-yard line. He angled another one away from Cedar Creek star Malachi “Max” Melton inside the 20-yard line just before halftime. A holding penalty on the Pirates placed the ball at the 5.
Cedar Creek’s defense came up with some big plays to keep Pleasantville from taking advantage of other opportunities.
Sophomore linebacker C.J. Resto and sophomore defensive end Will Marable each had sacks, and Melton stormed into the backfield to stop a Pleasantville running back for a 15-yard loss. The Greyhounds had only 79 total yards in the first half.
Cedar Creek lost four fumbles before reaching the end zone early in the third quarter. After Marabale recovered a Greyhounds fumble, Lou Barrios fired a 17-yard TD pass to wide receiver Manny Reid in the right corner of the end zone. The extra point attempt sailed wide right, leaving the game tied 6-6 with 8:47 left in the third quarter.
Pleasantville wasted little time regaining the momentum on Amin Bailey’s 10-yard TD run with 4:17 left in the third quarter.
“It’s my 17th birthday today and I couldn’t ask for a better present. This gives us a big boost to our confidence, but we’re not done, yet,” Baily said.
That ended a 10-play, 62-yard drive that featured a big, 14-yard completion from freshman Marlon Leslie to Ernest Howard and a 14-yard run from running back Joshua Kotokpo.
Cedar Creek 0 0 6 0 — 6
Pleasantville 6 0 6 6 — 18
P — E. Howard 6 run. (Run failed)
C — Reid 17 pass from Barrios. (Kick failed)
P — Bailey 10 run. (Run failed)
P — E. Howard 4 run. (Run failed)
Records — Cedar Creek 4-2; Pleasantville 4-1.