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Little adjustment lifts Cherokee over Egg Harbor Twp. in Group 4 final

It's takes a certain amount of courage to change a core belief, even if it is for one game and even if it is the most minor of corrections.

That's what Cherokee faced on Saturday in the Group 4 final against Egg Harbor Township. It was billed as the game of the year — and deservedly so, since not only was it the final game of the 2009 season but it also pitted the No. 1 Eagles against the No. 2 Chiefs. And the showdown on the Chiefs' home turf — one of the region's best settings for high school football — had the classic elements of power vs. speed.

And when it was over, the score read Cherokee 14, Egg Harbor Township 0.

Cherokee (11-1) entered the game on the heels of a 14-7 Thanksgiving Day rivalry loss to sister school Seneca.

The Chiefs had held back in that game to a slight degree, knowing the title game was just 9 days away. They needed every minute of that time to devise a scheme to stop the Eagles' sheer athleticism.

"We really stressed containing that \[quarterback Scott Miller\]," Cherokee coach PJ Mehigan said. "If you watch them on tape, you can stop them on first and second down, but on third down, he can just take off. To me, the biggest concern on defense was keeping the quarterback from beating us. He has the ability to take over a game.

"Scott Miller is very, very dangerous. He was the X-factor and fortunately we were able to keep him in check."
To do so, the Chiefs had to manipulate their standard 5-2 defense. That duty fell on defensive coordinator Matt Shultz.

"We knew today we couldn't [stay the 5-2] with their speed, so we changed up our schemes," Shultz said."Having guys like Ty Powell and Mike Zeuli allowed us to do that. We pulled them up into a position where they were playing outside linebacker."

That small adjustment made all the difference in the win over Egg Harbor (11-1) to secure not only the Group 4 title but the top spot in South Jersey.

Egg Harbor managed just 97 yards of total offense on the day, the bulk coming on a mad-scramble drive at the end of the first half captained by Miller. Granted, one must consider the dreadful conditions, with a mix of rain, sleet and snow falling throughout the game. But even then, the Eagles seemed just as thrown off by the steady wave of orange and brown that came at them.

"We had to work on caging them," said junior lineman Nick Foster, who harassed Miller throughout the game, including a hit that resulted in Kevin Byrne's game-changing interception. "Everyone on this defense worked this week and all year long for today, and everyone gets credit.

"Nothing they did today surprised us. Everything we prepared for they came at us with, and you can't say enough about our coaches that they had us prepared.

"I think [Miller] was a bit tired of seeing me I guess."

Said Powell: "We knew they had speed, so we had to get our players on the edges. We knew [Miller] was a scrambler. We knew we had to keep containment. The quarterback has the ball every play. If we can stop him, we can stop everything."

On this day, when it meant the most, the Chiefs did just that because they were willing to accept change instead of fighting it.