Game of the week: Jack Walters leads new-look Cherokee against No. 1 Timber Creek

Cherokee quarterback Jack Walters leads the No. 10 Chiefs into Friday’s game vs. No. 1 Timber Creek.

Jack Walters would be the perfect quarterback for the old Cherokee football team.

As it turns out, the senior also is looking like the perfect quarterback for the new Cherokee football team.

Truth be told, there’s not all that much difference between the old Chiefs and the new Chiefs. They’re still wearing those orange helmets. They’re still walking “the hill” before home games. They’re still more than capable of stunning a highly-ranked foe, witness their 42-41 overtime victory over Shawnee, then No. 6, in the season opener.

Still, there was something a little odd about that game, at least by Cherokee standards. The new Chiefs debuted their fast-paced, no-huddle spread offense, playing a wide-open style that would have been foreign to the old Chiefs.

“The legacy of Cherokee football is smash-mouth football,” Walters said.

Veteran Cherokee coach P.J. Mehigan concedes to having mixed feelings about the change in offensive philosophy, although it’s tough to complain after scoring 42 points in a victory over your archrivals.

“I’m concerned about losing our identity, losing our toughness,” Mehigan said. “By no means am I suggesting that spread teams are not tough. I’m just concerned about us. I don’t want us to become a finesse team.”

That’s where Walters comes in. The 6-foot, 200-pound athlete clearly can flourish in the Chiefs’ new system. He was 15-for-26 passing for 222 yards against Shawnee, and he also ran 26 times for 67 yards and five touchdowns.

That’s the most touchdowns he has scored in a game — ever.

“I never expected that,” Walters said. “After the first couple, I was like, ‘OK, OK, this is nice.’ But I never thought I would score five. After the last one [in overtime], I was exhausted.”

Like many quarterbacks, Walters enjoys running the no-huddle spread, operating at a fast pace, making quick decisions, getting the football to a lot of teammates in space.

Keep in mind that Walters was a linebacker before he was quarterback for the Chiefs. He started at inside linebacker last season while serving as the backup signal-caller, and his heart is never far from the hard-hitting tradition of Cherokee linebackers.

“We still want to be a tough football team,” Walters said. “We don’t want to lose that. We know the tradition here, the legacy here. It’s smash-mouth football. That’s Cherokee football.”

Mehigan was part of that tradition as a player, and he embraced it as a coach. He’s an old-school, power-football guy who once said he wanted his teams to develop a strong running game for two reasons: “November and December.”

“I’d still prefer to run the football,” Mehigan said.

But the Cherokee roster begged for a change in approach. The coach said he was short on “tight-end bodies and fullback bodies” but long on athletes who could run and play well in space.

“We knew in the spring,” Mehigan said. “We started investigating [the spread offense], going to clinics. We worked all spring, all summer.”

The Chiefs struggled a bit in their early scrimmages but were in high gear on opening night, scoring six touchdowns against a Shawnee team with a seasoned, sturdy defense.

“I was surprised we scored that many,” Mehigan said.

Mehigan said Walters “was the least of my concerns” when the coach made the change in offensive approach.

“Jack makes great decisions, which is the most important part of running that offense,” Mehigan said. “He had a great offseason, and he’s super-prepared. He’s just a really smart football player.”

Plus, he’s an ex-linebacker.

The Game at a Glance

Cherokee (1-0) at Timber Creek (2-0), Friday at 7 p.m.

Rankings: Timber Creek is No. 1 in the Inquirer Top 25, and Cherokee is No. 10.

Last season: Timber Creek rallied from a 21-7 deficit to beat Cherokee, 28-21.

The series: Timber Creek leads 3-0 with all three games in the last three seasons.

Cherokee players to watch: Sophomore running back Jamar Dimanche (13 carries, 83 yards) and sophomore wide receiver Jackson McIntyre (eight catches, 109 yards) made strong debuts in the season opener against. Shawnee.

Timber Creek player to watch: Senior quarterback Devin Leary, a North Carolina State recruit, is 31-for-49 passing for 525 yards and five touchdowns in the Chargers’ first two games.

Key matchup: Can Cherokee’s pass rush, led by defensive lineman Andrew Cardinali and linebacker Ahmad Miller, put consistent pressure on Leary to limit his ability to attack the Chiefs’ inexperienced secondary?

Pick: Timber Creek, 30-27.

By the Numbers

79 — Career touchdown passes by Timber Creek’s Devin Leary, five shy of former Pennsville star Dylan Cummings’ South Jersey record of 84.

18 — Wins in a row by Timber Creek.

6 — Extra points made in 6 attempts last weekend by Holy Cross kicker Paul Ginty.

4 — Tackles for loss in the season opener by Rancocas Valley linebacker Kyle Sapp.

10.07 — Yards per carry in the season opener by West Deptford junior Kenny Lim, who gained 141 yards on 14 carries.

332 — Yards from scrimmage in the season opener by Vineland quarterback Isaih Pacheco, who ran for 105 and passed for 227.