Football: Closer look at Williamstown-Cherokee

Williamstown wanted to play this game.

You could argue -- and you wouldn't be totally wrong -- that the West Jersey Football League was created for this game.

The Braves wanted to get on the bus – every other year in the regular season, not just now and then in the playoffs – and travel to Marlton to face Cherokee.

Williamstown pushed for the creation of the West Jersey Football League for games such as this. The Braves wanted to be part of the American Division for games such as this.

“They are the most solid program in South Jersey,” Williamstown coach Frank Fucetola said of Cherokee. “This is an opportunity for our kids to step up to the plate.”

Williamstown (2-0), the No. 9 team in The Inquirer Top 10, visits No. 2 Cherokee (2-0) Friday night at 7 in a WJFL American Division clash with South Jersey Group 4 playoff implications.

The Braves are the hotter team, coming off double-digit victories over Eastern and Lenape. The Chiefs are the scuffling team, needing second-half rallies to beat the same two teams – including a fourth-and-goal conversion with fewer than five minutes to play in a 20-17 victory last Friday against Eastern.

But Cherokee is Cherokee, the two-time defending South Jersey Group 4 champion, the team that has won 25 of its last 26, the team with the bright orange mystique.

“I know how they are – they are going to strap it up and come after us,” Fucetola said. “That’s what they do.”

Cherokee coach P.J. Mehigan isn’t happy with how his team has played in its first two games. But the Chiefs are young, with five sophomores in the starting lineup – plus a bunch of seniors starting for the first time – and they are 2-0 and better days could be ahead.

“We have to play better than we have played,” Mehigan said. “I think these kids will get a big boost of confidence when they start playing the way they can play.”

Mehigan said two-way lineman Tyler Hartman and two-way back Nick Follet have played particularly well for Cherokee. The Chiefs also have played good run defense – except for allowing a couple big plays in the first half of the season opener against – and that could come in handy against Williamstown’s wing-T attack.

“Our Achilles heel has been the big play, and Williamstown is a threat to go all the way on every play,” Mehigan said.

Williamstown’s offense has been led by senior quarterback Dan Collins and senior running back Chris Inge. Sophomore Marquis Little is another big-play man.

Defensively, the Braves have been getting good work from junior linebacker Sean Brown, and senior linemen Mike Martucci and Fidel Okoye.

In its recent rise to prominence under Fucetola, Williamstown is 0-3 against Cherokee, including a 2009 playoff loss – thanks in large part to a pair of second-half fumbles -- that still causes Braves’ fans to shake their head in dismay.

Fucetola knows a victory Friday would be a signature moment for his program. But win or lose, it’s still just Week 3 for both teams.

“It’s another game on our schedule,” Fucetola said. “It’s Cherokee. Our kids know they have to play well.”

The Analysis: Williamstown is playing better football right now. That might not be true in November.  But it’s true in September.
If the Braves aren't daunted by those orange uniforms, or overcome by the moment, they have enough talent and speed to make one more big play.

The Pick: Williamstown, 24-21.

-- Phil Anastasia

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