PLEASANTVILLE — Trailing 12-6 with a little less than nine minutes to play, Cedar Creek was inches away from tying up host Pleasantville. But thanks to seniors Sencere Brinson and Ernest Howard Jr., a few plays later it was all but over.

Two runs by Cedar Creek senior Malachi Melton brought the ball just outside the goal line, but on third down the Pirates tried to run a quick quarterback sneak and were called for illegal motion, bringing the ball back to the 6-yard line. Melton then ran right out of the wildcat formation and tried to throw a pass but Brinson stepped in front and picked it off at the 8. Pleasantville took over, and Howard burst through the line for a 76-yard gain that set up his own 3-yard scoring run that sealed an 18-6 victory by the Greyhounds.

The win was huge for Pleasantville in terms of power points, especially against another South Jersey Group 2 rival — and a team the Greyhounds beat in last year’s postseason tournament. Pleasantville improved to 4-1 after the West Jersey Football League nonconference win, while Cedar Creek, coming off an emotionally uplifting 29-28 win over Woodrow Wilson last weekend, fell to 4-2 heading into its bye week.

“Every time, that man is clutch. We call him ‘Big Ern,'” said Pleasantville senior running back Joshua Kotokpo. “And Brinson made a heck of a play.”

“We had to get out of that situation and had to make a big play fast,” Howard said of his 76-yard run that turned the tide. “I saw the hole and I just went. We just came out with a different mindset (in the second half), like we just had to finish the game because they are a dangerous team in the second half. The fourth quarter was the biggest quarter for us.”

“That play (by Brinson) was huge. To be backed up there and for us to get another turnover, that changed the course of the game,” said Pleasantville coach Chris Sacco. “It was 12-6 and they have a very good kicker, so if they score they probably go up 13-12 and then it’s a whole different ball game. But our defense, the staff and the players, are doing everything we ask them to do and we just have to keep growing. We have a lot of young guys playing right now.”

The only scoring in the first half came on a 6-yard touchdown run from Howard out of the wildcat formation on fourth down, as the rest of the action featured fumbles, penalties and both defenses getting after it.

“They made mistakes, we made mistakes and it was a little sloppy at times, but we did enough to pull it out. They are a very good football team and I have nothing but respect for their program and coach (Tim) Watson and what they do every year,” Sacco said. “Our coaching staff got no sleep all week because of all the stuff they do on offense. We just had to grind it out and I’m proud as hell of our kids. We did a lot of stuff this week in practice and they buckled up and responded.”

The teams traded fumbles to start the second half, but the Pirates knotted the score at 6 when quarterback Louie Barrios rolled right and found Manny Reid in the corner of the end zone. But Pleasantville responded with a long drive that was capped by a touchdown run from Amin Bailey. An interception by Cedar Creek’s Zachary Ricci started the Pirates’ drive that ultimately ended with Pleasantville’s defensive stand and Brinson’s interception.

“They were talking a lot, but we didn’t feed into it. We just wanted to show out on this field, and run the ball, especially. We just wanted to come out and show people what we’re really about,” Kotokpo said. “We don’t really need all the media, we just want to show people everything we’ve been working on.”

“(Assistant coach Chris) Mancuso put in that work for us this week, extra film work. He was really there for us and he helped us a lot,” Howard said. “We put in a whole new defense to stop them. We came out here and fought. This will definitely give us a spring to the playoffs and shows what we can really do when we fight all four quarters.”

Freshman quarterback Marlon Leslie played well for the Greyhounds, but when it came down to getting out from the shadow of their own end zone, Sacco put the ball in Howard’s hands and the decision paid off.

“Between him, Keon (Henry) and Josh, they can bail us out at any point. Amin, Kashawn (Jamison) — we’ve got some dudes, we just have to keep getting better,” Sacco said. “We have a lot of work to do — I was a little disappointed with some of the lack of discipline with penalties, but I’d rather clean that up after a win than a loss. I’m so proud of these guys.”

Cedar Creek, which came in averaging better than 35 points per game, was limited to just six and also committed five turnovers, including four lost fumbles. They Greyhounds knew all about the Pirates scoring 29 points against Woodrow Wilson and 41 in a loss to Camden, but Sacco said his defense was just motivated to play soundly and do what it had to do to give the team a chance to win. And gain valuable power points for a potential state playoff berth.

“We don’t score check, it was more of them being high up there in South Jersey Group 2 and it was an opportunity for us to get a ton of points,” he said. “We kind of used that as motivation, to keep grinding and rolling and if we do what we think we can do a win like this might set us up in the playoffs for a home game. We just have to keep going.”

What’s next: Cedar Creek has a bye next weekend before traveling to Oakcrest on Oct. 18 at 6:30 p.m. Pleasantville hosts Gloucester Catholic on Oct. 11 before entering its bye week Oct. 18.

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