Cherokee clicked on both sides of ball
In the postseason, there might have been only one unit that could have given Cherokee's defense a challenge: The Chiefs offense.
In the postseason, there might have been only one unit that could have given Cherokee's defense a challenge:
The Chiefs offense.
Both units were once again on their game, which is why Cherokee must make additional space in its football trophy case.
Cherokee not only won its ninth NJSIAA sectional title with Friday night's 38-2 win over Eastern in the South Jersey Group 5 final at Rowan, but the Chiefs did so emphatically.
And it's a pattern that was familiar throughout this postseason. The Chiefs, ranked No. 3 in South Jersey by The Inquirer, scored at will and defended like crazy.
When both units perform at such a high level that Cherokee displayed this postseason, it usually results in teams celebrating on the field at the game's conclusion.
Actually, it was like this for most of the season, but the Chiefs took it up a major notch during the playoffs.
And they took their lead from coach P.J. Mehigan, who gave his team a simple message.
"We tell these guys that it doesn't have to be close," Mehigan said about the final score.
And his team took the message to heart.
"Sometimes you get the mind-set that you are in a playoff game, a championship game, and it has to be close," Mehigan said. "If you take care of your job every play, it doesn't have to be close, and these guys bought into it."
They sure did.
The championship game was won in the first half when Cherokee took a 24-0 lead.
The Chiefs have a reputation as a grinding, efficient offense, but their three first-half touchdowns came on a run of 54 yards by Rob Agnoni, a 32-yard reception by Jason Streb, and Matt Stickney's 76-yard gallop.
Playing against one of the most explosive offenses in South Jersey, Cherokee forced five turnovers, three in the first half.
There were two interceptions by junior outside linebacker Jordan Krug, another by Stickney, and fumble recoveries by senior tackle Brett Wojtkowiak and senior linebacker Zach Andes.
And when Cherokee wasn't causing turnovers, the pass rush, led by Delaware-bound defensive end Jake Powell, senior defensive tackle Mark Adams, and sophomore linebacker Evan Powell, made Eastern's heralded quarterback, Tom Flacco, run for his life.
"The whole year we played great, but in the playoffs, it was even better," said Jake Powell, who batted down two passes and had a sack.
In short, this was a total team effort.
During the postseason, Cherokee opened with a 51-0 win over Washington Township. That was followed by a 35-14 semifinal victory over Jackson. In that game, the Chiefs' first-string defense was given the night off after a 35-0 lead.
And now came this startling effort against Eastern (10-2). The Vikings suffered both losses to Cherokee, including a 28-21 regular-season defeat.
This is an Eastern team that averaged 39.3 points against the non-Cherokee portion of its schedule and is ranked No. 4 in South Jersey by The Inquirer.
In short, it is an exceptional Vikings team.
"We had a pretty good year, and the only team to beat us was them, twice," Eastern coach Dan Spittal said.
Most of all, the Vikings faced a Cherokee team that was looking to do more than just simply win.
"We knew we had to dominate, and it's been awesome," said Agnoni, who scored the game's first touchdown. "We kept fighting and knew this was going to come."