Football: The riddle of Cherokee's schedule

Let's start with a given: Cherokee is one of the best, if not the best, football programs in South Jersey.

Let's include another given: Schedules are cyclical in nature. They change from season to season, and even within a season. You never know what state -- physically and emotionally -- another team is going to be in on Game Day when you look at the matchup on paper.

But there's still an odd thing about Cherokee's schedule: It's not as tough, on paper, as you would expect.

That was true last year, too.

Now, that's not to minimize what the Chiefs have done. They 23-1 over the last two seasons.  They are the first team from the traditional South Jersey area to win back-to-back South Jersey Group 4 titles. They have been No. 1 in The Inquirer Top 10 two years in a row.

But this is a Group 4 powerhouse in a Group 4 powerhouse division. These are the heavyweight champions of public-school football in South Jersey.

But look at this year's schedule. The Chiefs play just two games against teams that finished 2010 with winning records -- 7-3 Williamstown and 6-4 Shawnee.

The combined 2010 record of Cherokee's opponents is 32-58. That's a function of playing 1-9 Eastern, 1-9 Cherry Hill East, 2-8 Cherry Hill West and 3-7 Washington Township as well as 4-6 Clearview, 4-6 Lenape and 4-6 Seneca.

Now, some of this is cyclical. Eastern and Washington Township, traditional powers in the old Olympic American, are in rebuilding cycles. And Seneca, Cherokee's Thanksgiving Day rival, was a Top 5 team at the start of last season and slumped to a 4-6 record.

Some of it is just the way the schedule broke in the two-year-old West Jersey Football League. Whatever criteria was used, Cherokee got teams such as Clearview, Cherry Hill East and Cherry Hill West as cross-over games, not exactly traditional rivals or recent football powers.

Last season, Cherokee went 12-0 and won another sectional title. But the Chiefs' path to the crown was a little odd in that it featured all Cape-Atlantic League teams -- 5-6 Absegami, 6-5 Egg Harbor Township and 9-3 Oakcrest.

Again, it's all cyclical. And it's a trribute to the Chiefs that they've stayed steady and superior while so many other teams are going through down periods and off years and rebuilding seasons.

Cherokee just keeps rolling. And if the Chiefs' schedule doesn't appear to keep up, well, that's on other teams, not them.

-- Phil Anastasia

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