Eli Sloan-El told his teammates this season was going to be something special.
The Camden High School senior has made good on his promise.
A role player early in his career, Sloan-El was determined to step into the spotlight in his final campaign for the Panthers.
"He said it before the season, 'This is my year,'" Camden all-purpose standout Najyere Edwards said. "He said he was going to do it, and he's doing it."
Sloan-El led a dominant defensive effort, and Edwards fueled the offense as visiting Camden beat Cedar Creek, 14-0, Saturday in a West Jersey Football League crossover game.
Sloan-El, a defensive end, had two sacks, recovered two fumbles, and made a spectacular interception. He spent most of the afternoon in Cedar Creek's backfield, a disruptive development not lost on Pirates coach Tim Watson.
"That No. 9," Watson said, "is some player."
Edwards carried the football 25 times for 103 yards, gaining 83 in the second half. The versatile senior also threw a touchdown pass and forced a fumble.
"This win is so big for us," Edwards said after Camden improved to 3-1. "We go forward from here."
Edwards fired an 18-yard touchdown pass to junior JaJuan Hudson on the first series of the second half. Hudson added the two-point conversion run as the Panthers took an 8-0 lead in what had been a hard-hitting defensive battle. "Just trying to get the ball to our playmakers," Edwards said of the touchdown pass. "He ran a slant, they were crowding up to stop the run, and I got it to him."
Edwards powered Camden's second scoring drive with some hard running, gaining 39 yards on seven carries as the Panthers consumed much of the fourth quarter. Junior Ramer Nock finished the march with a 4-yard scoring run.
"He's underrated as a runner," Camden coach Dwayne Savage said. "He's a playmaker."
The impressive victory belongs in the trophy case of the Camden defense.
Led by Sloan-El, junior tackle Tidiane Bamba, and senior cornerback Ahmere Mitchell, the Panthers kept the Pirates (3-1), the No. 17 team in the Inquirer Top 25, from advancing inside the Camden 30-yard line.
"We felt we could shut them down," Sloan-El said. "When you get a shutout, it tells you the defense showed up and did its job."
Sloan-El said he had been a defensive end for most of his career, dating to his days in the Whitman Park youth program.
"I just love coming off the edge," Sloan-El said.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound athlete has developed into a highly productive player as a senior. He had four sacks in the season opener in East St. Louis, Ill., and has continued to spark the Panthers' defense since the team returned home to South Jersey.
Sloan-El showed his ball skills on his interception, tipping a pass with his left hand and snatching the football out of the air late in the first half.
"I think he has something like 10 sacks this year," Savage said. "He's killing it. He's become a leader of this team."