The Cedar Creek football team’s motto this season is “Championship Getback” — meaning, let’s get back to the things that led us to becoming state champions, like working hard on every detail in practice, making big plays, playing with confidence, and learning how to handle adversity and overcome it during the course of a game.

The Pirates were beat on some big plays in the passing game, but continued to come back strong, and turned to senior Malachi “Max” Melton when they needed him most. Melton returned a punt 55 yards with 2:49 remaining in the season opener against Willingboro on a hot Friday afternoon to give Cedar Creek a 24-14 lead, and despite the Chimeras scoring on the very next play, the Pirates were able to hang on for a gutsy 24-20 victory.

“We had pretty much every newscast and all the people against us, but we’re used to that and we use that as fuel, go out there and do what we have to do to get the ‘W,'” said Melton, a Purdue University recruit and younger brother of Rutgers standout Bo Melton. “At first, I called ‘poison’ but one of my guys made a great effort to get back and make a block, I saw space, cut it back to the right and I was just gone from there.”

Cedar Creek struck first on a two-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Louie Barrios, then got a field goal from Taylor Manning to take a 10-7 lead into halftime. Early in the second half, Melton recovered a fumble that set up JoJo Bermudez’s 16-yard touchdown on a swing pass that gave the Pirates a 17-7 lead.

“JoJo is coming along. He’s a very explosive kid, shifty, and can get in the open field and score touchdowns. He’s the next up-and-coming Cedar Creek football player,” Melton said.

“I think, when it’s all said and done, he’s going to be one of the best slot receivers in this division. Having said that, I think that makes him one of the best slot receivers in South Jersey,” added Pirates coach Tim Watson. “He’s one of our best young skill position players. He’s not 6-foot, but he has tremendous vision, sets up defenders, and I think people are going to hear about him if they haven’t already. If teams want to pay a lot of attention to Malachi Melton or Manny Reid, JoJo can hurt you.”

Willingboro — which scored its first touchdown on a 59-yard pass play from Au-Shaun Davis to Chris Long — used the big play to shave the lead to 17-14 with five minutes left in the third. Right after Bermudez’s touchdown, Davis hooked up with Long again on a 75-yard scoring strike down the left sideline, and immediately following Melton’s punt return for a touchdown, Davis found Chance Bennett for an 80-yard score.

“We knew coming into this game we were going up against a great Willingboro team and they always bring it when we play them, so we just had to make sure we were doing all the little things right,” Barrios said. “We know who we have on offense, so we just had to get our guys in space so they could make somebody miss and just go. It feels great to know that the game wasn’t pretty, we made some mistakes, we played a great team and we still came out with the outcome we wanted. There are still some things we can fix to get better.”

“We knew they were going to be tough and had some great players, but aside from the three big plays, I’m super proud of my guys. They were far superior in terms of size but we feel like we can go toe-to-toe with anybody when it comes to heart, even with our young guys, and I think we showed that. Early on in our program, we started off really hungry, and success sometimes is your worst enemy. We got away from that hunger. We were working hard and we knew what it looked like, there was just something missing. These young guys watched us when they were coming up, Malachi watched his brother in championship games when he was playing with the Crusaders, and he was a freshman in a championship game, so those guys want to get back to that. These types of games will help us, but we have a long way to go. We got this win last year and that ended up being big for us. It’s going to be a slugfest in our division, so every win you get is probably going to be like (today). I’m glad we could com away with this win. I have nothing but respect for Willingboro,” Watson said. “The great thing about it is, we won, so we can learn from things. And with our youth, it’s going to be huge for us to get into the film room. Willingboro is good and I think a lot of people counted us out after last year. That’s a good football team, but we are too, and I think we’re going to compete our butts off. We have to stay healthy and keep learning. There’s no looking ahead, it’s going to be like this every week, and we’re excited and ready for it.”

Barrios finished with 127 yard passing and accounted for two touchdowns (1 rushing, 1 passing) against the defending Central Jersey Group 1 champion Chimeras, and also rushed for 52 yards, and Bermudez had more than 75 combined yards in the second half.

“Our thing this year is ‘Greatness Getback.’ You all remember the 2012 and 2013 Cedar Creek teams, and we’re getting back to those roots and basically paying homage to them,” Melton said. “We want to get back to that and winning games. We’re just taking it game by game. We’re going to celebrate tonight, but tomorrow we have film work.”

What’s next? Cedar Creek travels to Salem on Sept. 7 at noon; Willingboro hosts Glassboro on Sept. 6 at 7 p.m.

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