Tim Watson knew he was making a gamble.
Now, the Cedar Creek football coach regrets his decision.
The Pirates went for it on fourth-and-1 deep in their own territory and Hillside’s defense snuffed them.
Three plays later, the Comets scored their first of four straight second-half touchdowns as Cedar Creek (10-3) lost to Hillside (12-0), 25-3, in the Group 2 regional championship on Sunday at Rutgers University.
“I rolled the dice and in all respects, I think that was the ball game,” Watson said. “They buckled down. I’m not sure what adjustments they made in the second half… I was hoping we could get that first down, have a nice drive, and momentum is completely different.”
Instead, momentum fell into Hillside’s favor.
Senior running back James Louis ran for two touchdowns and senior Jahon Moore ran for another. Senior quarterback Nahree Biggins also connected with junior wideout Fatir Bell on a 9-yard touchdown pass.
On the fourth-and-one play early in the third quarter, Watson decided to have senior Louis Barrios attempt a quarterback sneak, but he went nowhere.
“We just fell on the short end of the sticks right there,” Barrios said.
The Pirates moved the ball efficiently in spots in the first half. Junior kicker Taylor Manning’s 22-yard field goal gave Cedar Creek a 3-0 lead in the first quarter.
But besides that drive, Barrios had trouble dealing with Hillside’s defense. He was sacked three times and under pressure consistently.
Entering the game, Hillside outscored opponents, 410-40. The Comets also never allowed more than 14 points all season.
“I think [Barrios] pressed a little bit in the first half to try and make some things happen,” Watson said. “Sometimes you got to let the game come to you and kind of take what they give you, and I felt like a few of our guys are doing that.”
Barrios went 13 for 20 for 113 yards and two interceptions. He also fumbled in the second quarter when the Pirates were in scoring range. Two of his three turnovers came in Hillside territory.
“I could’ve done way better,” Barrios said. “I’ll take this one. I didn’t come out and show up the way I needed to for my team.”
Barrios, who helped Cedar Creek win its second sectional title since 2015 against Camden in November, said he didn’t want to think about his career at Cedar Creek ending in a loss before the game.
“I’m just more upset with the fact that I’m never going to put this uniform on again,” Barrios said. “It’s kind of hitting me hard right now.”
After the game, Watson told the team that the Pirates have nothing to be ashamed about.
Watson used Hillside as an example, noting the Comets fell in the Group 2 regional title to Haddonfield in 2018.
“Although we have some key seniors, we have a lot of underclassmen,” Watson said. “I thought those guys really learned a lot throughout the season. They put us back in a position where we’re here playing. There’s not a lot of guys that are playing at Rutgers today and we’re one of them. Their efforts this year, the team that we have, is what got us here.”
Cedar Creek 3 0 0 0 – 3
Hillside 0 0 12 13 – 25
CC: Taylor Manning 22 FG
H: Fatir Bell 6 pass from Nahree Biggins (Jason Rodriguez kick)
H: James Louis 5 run (Biggins pass failed)
H: Louis 11 run (Rodriguez kick failed)