Second Ranked Pioneers Travel to South Jersey to Take on High Scoring Pirates
EGG HARBOR CITY, NJ—After a Friday night contest at Cranford, Big Central Gridiron will be getting up bright and early on Saturday morning to take the long journey down to Atlantic County to cover the NJSIAA South Jersey Group 3 Semifinal between 4th seeded Somerville and top seeded Cedar Creek, and then head over to Hammonton and Capella Field to see St. Thomas Aquinas play St. Joe’s of Hammonton in the Non-Public B Playoffs opening round.
This matchup between the Pioneers, ranked 2nd in the latest BCG Top 10, and also 2nd in the latest BCG Somerset County Top 10, and Cedar Creek should be a high scoring dandy, which will come down to which team’s defense best stops the other team’s offense. The Pirates, which Big Central Gridiron saw in Week 0 against Scotch Plains-Fanwood at the Battle and the Beach, has rolled to an undefeated season at 10-0 to date.
Cedar Creek, which defeated Scotch Plains (52-0), also defeated the likes of playoff teams such as Winslow, Willingboro, Camden Wilson, Absegami (twice), Holy Spirit, and Oakcrest. The Pirates also defeated Camden, which like Scotch Plains-Fanwood, was barred from this year’s playoffs due to ejections stemming from altercations in a contest versus Pennsauken earlier this season.
Meanwhile, The Ville has also played a number of teams that have qualified for the state playoffs including Northern Highlands, Summit, Warren Hills, and Rahway (twice). Somerville played Rahway for a second time last week in the opening round of the playoffs, and the Indians gave much more of a struggle in a 38-21 defeat after losing by 38 points in Week 4 (45-7).
Somerville, which enters Saturday’s game at 8-2, only lost one game on the field, and that was to North Jersey powerhouse, Northern Highlands (32-20) at the Rumble on the Raritan on September 5th at Rutgers University’s SHI Stadium in Piscataway. The other loss was a forfeit to Phillipsburg due to COVID. The Pioneers also played one game out of state against Olney Charter of Philadelphia.
The Pioneers reached the Championship Game of the 2019 South Jersey Group 3 playoffs before losing at Camden Wilson (54-30). Wilson then went on to defeat Wall Township in the South Jersey Group 3 Regional Final or Bowl Game at Rutgers (12-7). Wilson, which won its first round game versus Triton (52-0) is competing in Central Jersey Group 3, and hosts Manasquan on Saturday.
Speaking of Wall Township, the Knights, which were originally the 2nd seed in South Jersey Group 3, and slated to host 3rd seeded Delsea on Friday night, had to forfeit the game due to recently alleged hazing allegations in the football program that came up just days ago, and is currently being investigated. Delsea now awaits the winner of this game, and will either host Somerville or travel to Cedar Creek next week.
Coming into Saturday’s contest, Somerville has outscored its opponents by a margin of 353-122, or by an average of about 35 to 12 per contest. Meanwhile, Cedar Creek has outscored its foes by an overall margin of 347-62, or an average of about 35 to 6 per game. The Pirates, champions of the West Jersey Football League’s Memorial Division, opened the season with 4 straight shutouts, and didn’t give up a point in its first 18 quarters.
The most points the pirates gave up all season was in a 35-27 victory over a Winslow team that was defeated by Woodbridge at the Battle at the Beach (26-14). All the other games, Cedar Creek has only yielded 8 points or less. Meanwhile, Somerville had 3 shutouts in its first 5 games, and gave up a season high 32 points to Northern Highlands in a loss and 26 to St. Joseph’s-Metuchen (47-26) in a victory. The Pioneers gave up 7 points or less in four of its contests.
Although Cedar Creek and Somerville did not play a common opponent this year, the Pirates defeated Scotch Plains-Fanwood, which later visited Warren Hills, and shut out the Streaks (13-0). Somerville later traveled up to Washington Township, and downed Warren Hills (43-12) by 31. Cedar Creek has played two Group 4 schools (Scotch Plains and Winslow), a Non-Public B school (Holy Spirit), three Group 2 schools (Willingboro, Pleasantville, and Camden), and the rest from Group 3.
Meanwhile, Somerville has played one Group 4 school (Northern Highlands), a Non-Public Group A in St. Joseph’s-Metuchen, and the rest of their opponents were Group 3. The Pirates Strength Index was 90.96 while Somerville’s was 88.68. Combined with an OSI of 69.94 and a 21.56 power points, Cedar Creek had a UPR of 2 to earn the second highest seed in the South Group 3 Super Section behind Central Jersey Group 3 top seed Rumson-Fair Haven.
As you might have guessed, Somerville and Cedar Creek have never played each other before. The Pioneers have only played four teams from South Jersey: Bridgeton in 2006 and 2007, Northern Burlington in 2010, Cherry Hill West in 1980, and Lakewood in 1942. Somerville is 2-3 in the five games against those South Jersey schools. Since 2016, the Pioneers have enjoyed a meteoric rise back to respectability and to contention for state titles.
Prior to Jeff Vanderbeek’s arrival late in the 2015 season, Somerville had gone a combined 4-36 over a four year span from 2012 through 2015. Since then under Vanderbeek and now Dallas Whitaker, the Pioneers have compiled an overall record of 57-7, have made sectional semifinal appearances five times, won the de facto Big Central Championship over Woodbridge last year, appeared in three sectional championships, and won a sectional title in 2017.
Entering Saturday afternoon’s contest Somerville has garnered 1,343 yards passing and 2,039 yards rushing for a total of 3,383 yards of offense, or an average of about 376 total yards per game. Meanwhile, Cedar Creek has collected 2,467 yards through the air, and 1,486 yards on the ground for a total of 3,953 yards of offense, or an average of a little more than 395 total yards per contest.
The Pirates are led on offense by senior QB J.C. Landicini, who has completed 144 of 217 pass attempts for a whopping 2,448 yards, or an average of 17 yards per completion along with 24 TDs while only throwing three interceptions. Against Scotch Plains-Fanwood, Landicini completed 10 of 14 passes for 210 yards and 2 TDs.
Cedar Creek’s rushing attack is spearheaded by Ja’Quan Howard, who has rushed 145 times for 1,171 yards, or an average of 8.1 yards per carry and 17 TDs. Junior RB Mekhi Harvey is the second leading rusher for the Pirates with 30 carries for 304 yards, or a little more than 10 yards per rush, and 4 TDs. The Pirates have five receivers with at least 10 receptions this season led by senior wideout, JoJo Bermudez.
To date this season, Bermudez has caught 61 passes for 1,224 yards, or about 20.1 yards per reception along with 10 TDs. Zac Ricci and Elijah Smalls complement Bermudez in the receiving core with a combined 40 catches for 799 yards, or close to another 20 yards per catch while reeling in 10 more touchdowns together.
Senior linebacker, C.J. Resto leads the defense with 104 total tackles including 61 solos, 12 for loss, and 4.5 sacks. Teammate Malik Moore-Summers has 47 total tackles including 32 solos, 16 for loss, and a team high 8 sacks. Elijah Smalls leads the team with 3 interceptions. Bermudez has two punt returns for TDs totaling 139 yards while junior placekicker Matthew Best has made 26 of 29 field goal attempts.
Somerville is led by junior QB Mike Miller, who has completed 79 of 133 attempts for 1,275 yards, or an average of 16.1 yards per completion along with 16 TDs while throwing five interceptions. Senior RB Ethan McNair leads the Pioneers ground game with 913 yards on 81 carries, or an average of 11.3 yards per carry along with 12 TDs. Junior Hashym Hobbs has rushed 31 times for 270 yards, or nearly 9 yards per carry and 3 TDs while Dylan Knapp has rushed 25 times for 229 yards and 4 TDs.
Senior Jamien Bryant can score in a variety of ways. He leads the team in receiving with 27 receptions for 502 yards and 5 TDs while rushing 19 times for 208 yards and 4 more scores. Bryant also has a kickoff return for a score and two punt returns for touchdowns. On defense, Bryant leads the Pioneers in total tackles with 51 and interceptions with 3 while John Furino leads the squad in sacks with 4.
Liam Willard is a top contributor on defense for Somerville with 37 total tackles and two interceptions. Senior Tyler Bryant also chips in with 39 total tackles and a forced fumble. Jamien Bryant also leads the team in solo tackles with 25 while Willard ranks 2nd with 20. Freshman Spencer Carran handles much of the placekicking duties and has made 8 of 9 extra point attempts while McNair leads the Pioneers in two point conversion scores with 10.
Expect this game to be quite a fast paced and high scoring contest. Somerville’s ability to set the pace with its no huddle offense will certainly be key to its chances of winning this game. The team that plays the best defense will win, and looking at the numbers, Cedar Creek has the edge there. The Pioneers will need to play like it did for the first three quarters against Northern Highlands, but for the entire game, and stay ahead of the Pirates.
Prediction: Cedar Creek wins, 42-28.