Worn out after playing in all three phases of Friday night's football game and leading the West Deptford football team back to the Group 2 finals, Josh Cornelius took a second to reflect on what he and his teammates accomplished during his career.
The Eagles' senior lamented the fact that he would never again suit up to play a home game in front of the West Deptford fans.
“It’s bittersweet because I will never play another football game at this stadium,” Cornelius said after West Deptford’s Group 2 semifinal win over Woodstown.
However, he quickly stated that there was a lot more sweetness than bitterness.
“Going to Rowan and potentially closing out at 12-0 with this class I have been playing with since sixth grade is an awesome feeling,” Cornelius said. “I absolutely love it.”
West Deptford returns to Rowan University for third-straight year as it eyes another Group 2 championship. West Deptford lost to Haddonfield in the finals in 2010, before defeating the Bulldawgs in a rematch last year. This time, there will be no Colonial Conference rival to compete against to become champions of Group 2, but there will be an equally opposing counterpart in the Cedar Creek Pirates.
West Deptford will have to contend with a Cedar Creek team that dominated No. 3 Willingboro to the tune of 41-3 in the Group 2 semifinals. Quarterback Damon Mitchell completed 12 of 19 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns. Five of his completions were to running back Gary Melton, who finished with 125 yards and a touchdown.
Melton also had a big day on the ground, rushing for three scores. It was a similar story in Cedar Creek’s opening-round 34-7 win over Cinnaminson as Melton finished with 168 yards receiving.
Like West Deptford, Cedar Creek (10-1) is capable of hitting the big play at any time. Four of the Pirates’ six touchdowns against Willingboro came from 25-yards or longer.
If recent history is any indication, the biggest challenge for the Eagles’ defense will likely come in the air. In West Deptford’s (11-0) closest wins—games against Haddon Heights and Paulsboro—the opposition has had success in the air, particularly to receivers lining up in the slot. Cornerback Alex Hilbmann said the team got valuable experience during its 28-20 win over Paulsboro two weeks ago. The Eagles gave up more than 200 yards of passing from Zack Funk in that game, but also recorded three interceptions to seal the win.
“We definitely can use this game to get better,” said Hilbmann, who is also the starting quarterback. “Guys made plays, but there are some things we can work on in practice to get better at.”
Outside of the Pirates' 41-40 defeat to St. Augustine on Thanksgiving, Cedar Creek has also played stifling defense. In the 10 other contests, Cedar Creek has allowed just 6.8 points per game.
This game was looked at as a likely final as soon as the Group 2 brackets were released with West Deptford as No. 1 and Cedar Creek No. 2. For players like junior Devin Bates, who didn’t experience last year’s final, the anticipation has been great.
“Once again I have to put it all on the line,” said Bates. “It’s the seniors’ last game and it is going to be a tough game. I can’t for wait for it.”
West Deptford should have the services of leading rusher Gerald Owens for the game. Owens missed the semifinal with a head injury, but is expected back. Owens had a monster game in last year’s championship and once again figures to be a major part of the offense. However, with the likes of Cornelius, Bates and Connor Smith also certain to see touches, West Deptford is once again counting on a team effort to bring back another title.
“It feels great,” said senior receiver/defensive back Herb Snyder. “This is what we worked for all summer and all season. It took a full team effort to get here and that’s what it is going to take in the final.”