Cherry Hill East football turnaround has them in playoff contention

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Coach Tom Coen and Cherry Hill East will compete for a playoff spot on Saturday. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)

More than anything, it's the calendar that tells the tale for Cherry Hill East football.

"We're playing meaningful football in November," Cherry Hill East coach Tom Coen said.

That's a big deal for the Cougars. They were 1-9 in each of the previous three seasons.

Now they are 4-3 and preparing for one of the program's most significant games in recent years, a Saturday showdown with two-time defending South Jersey Group 4 champion Cherokee.

"These kids have endured a lot the last few years," Coen said. "For us to be in this position, playing a game like this on the first weekend in November, it just means so much to our players."

Cherry Hill East could qualify for the South Jersey Group 4 tournament with a victory, although that's no sure thing. The Cougars likely would need some help.

Still, it's something special for Cherry Hill East to be in position to qualify. And it's a rocket boost for the program to be hosting a game of such magnitude against an opponent such as Cherokee, which is 5-2 and needs to win to be assured of qualifying for the same tournament.

"This is just a great opportunity in front of us," Coen said.

Cherry Hill East put itself in this position with a dramatic, 31-27 victory over Lenape on Friday night.

The Indians took a 27-24 lead with a little less than three minutes to play. But senior quarterback Jesse Gold drove the Cougars down the field, completing two big passes to wide receiver Taj Frazier and firing an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Josh Flowers with 21 seconds on the clock.

"We looked at that game as a playoff game," Coen said of the Lenape game.

Familiar foes. When Camden Catholic (7-0) plays Bishop Eustace (4-3) this Friday, it will be more than just a renewal of a great rivalry.

It also will be a reunion for coaches Gil Brooks of Camden Catholic and Rob Cormier of Bishop Eustace.

Cormier spent three years as Brooks' defensive coordinator at St. Joseph's Prep in Philadelphia in the early to mid-2000s.

"Gil has had a huge influence on me," Cormier said. "So much of what we do as a program is modeled after the things that he did at the Prep. He's a great football coach."

Camden Catholic is the likely No. 1 seed in the Non-Public Group 2 tournament. Bishop Eustace assured itself of a berth in the same tournament with a dramatic, 17-14 victory over Cherry Hill West on Friday night.

The Crusaders drove 96 yards, taking more than seven minutes off the clock, and scored the winning touchdown on quarterback Chris Spellman's 2-yard run with 25 seconds left.

"It's huge for us to qualify," Cormier said.

Woods update. Triton coach Pete Goetz has his "fingers crossed" that star running back Josh Woods will not be lost for a significant amount of time with a knee injury.

Woods was hurt in Friday night's 35-6 victory over Paul VI. Woods is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Monday morning.

"He's walking and bending it," Goetz said.

Air Shawnee. Coach Tim Gushue's Shawnee teams have long been known for their powerful ground games, and this year's edition is no different.

But Shawnee's last two victories were comebacks fueled by the passing of quarterback Jamie Jackopin.

The senior's passing led a late drive for a 20-16 victory over Cherry Hill East on Oct. 6. And his passing rallied the Renegades to a 21-17 victory over previously undefeated Williamstown on Friday night.

Jackopin's 14-yard touchdown pass to Alex Mourtos on a fourth-and-4 play with 26 seconds on the clock might have been the play that put Shawnee in the South Jersey Group 4 tournament, although the Renegades have a tough game this week against Washington Township.

"He's been spectacular for us all season," Gushue said of Jackopin.

Dynamic Duo. The hottest pass-catch combination in South Jersey might be Cinnaminson quarterback Dom Elly and wide receiver Chris Kirby.

In the last two games, Kirby has caught 15 passes from Elly for 396 yards and five touchdowns.

Comeback kids. Pennsville fell behind Glassboro by a 20-7 score on Friday night. But Eagles coach Ryan Wood liked what he was seeing.

"We don't get concerned with what happens in the first quarter," Pennsville coach Ryan Wood said. "Our concern is the tempo. Is the game flowing back and forth like we want it to be?"

Pennsville rallied for a 55-35 victory as sophomore quarterback Dylan Cummings passed for 444 yards out of the team's spread, no-huddle offense. Senior wideout Ryan Hawthorne had 135 receiving yards and scored five touchdowns, and senior wideout Colton Newsome had 171 receiving yards as Pennsville improved to 7-0.

"We got into an up-and-down-the-field game, and that's where we want to be," Wood said.

Cape-Atlantic showdown. Millville (7-0) hosts Atlantic City (6-1) Friday night in a game loaded with Group 4 playoff implications. The Cape-Atlantic American title is at stake, too.

"It's taken a lot of work to get to this point," Millville coach Jason Durham said. "Our kids are excited because they know what's at stake."

 


Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223, panastasia@phillynews.com, or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter. Read his blog, "Jersey Side Sports," at www.philly.com/jerseysidesports