A little after 10 on the night of Sept. 27, Cherokee's team buses pulled away from Williamstown's football field to begin a trip back to Marlton.
"You could hear a pin drop," Cherokee coach P.J. Mehigan recalled of the ride home after a 13-10 loss.
The Chiefs were busy plotting their next move: a stunning reversal of fortune that would stamp the 2013 team as one of most memorable in the illustrious history of the program.
Cherokee capped a remarkable recovery from that long-ago loss with a dominating performance in the South Jersey Group 5 title game Friday night at Rowan.
With clinical precision and to the obvious delight of a rain-soaked, bone-chilled crowd that filled the visitors' stands, Cherokee scored a 38-2 victory over Eastern to capture its ninth South Jersey title, and third since 2009.
Cherokee, the No. 3 team in The Inquirer's South Jersey rankings, won its final nine games and finished 11-1.
No. 4 Eastern ended at 10-2, with both losses to Cherokee.
"Snowball game," Eastern coach Dan Spittal said of the momentum that Cherokee generated early and increased through the game.
This was complete domination, as Cherokee's offense busted loose with big plays and its defense shut down Eastern's high-scoring offense.
The Chiefs were so imposing that most of the fourth quarter was played with a running clock under NJSIAA mercy rules.
"I've dreamed about this since sixth grade," said Cherokee senior Rob Agnoni, who scored the first touchdown on a 54-yard run on the game's second play.
Cherokee senior Trevor Osler was 6-for-8 passing for 102 yards with two touchdowns. Senior Matt Stickney gained 132 yards with a touchdown on 10 carries.
Senior end Jake Powell (two batted passes, a sack), senior defensive tackle Mark Adams (sack, two tackles for losses), and junior linebacker Jordan Krug (two interceptions) led the swarming Cherokee defense.
"It's hard to describe," said Osler, who fired touchdown passes to Jesse Streb and Powell. "This is what we dreamed about doing when we started playing the game when we were six or seven years old."
Cherokee seized command from the start, taking a 17-0 lead in the first 8 minutes, 22 seconds.
Agnoni set the tone, taking a jet around right end, cutting back, and bursting into the end zone on the 54-yard TD run.
"Great block by Jake," Agnoni said of Powell.
On Cherokee's next possession, Osler fired a 32-yard touchdown pass to Streb, a junior who made a diving catch as he tumbled across the goal line.
After the first of Krug's two interceptions, Cherokee added a 21-yard field goal by Ken Ravel for a 17-0 lead with 3:38 left in the first quarter.
Eastern quarterback Tom Flacco was under near-constant pressure from Cherokee's pass rush. Flacco finished 6 for 17 for 67 yards. He also ran 15 times for 47 yards.
Flacco ended his career with 7,386 passing yards, second in South Jersey history, third in state history.
"The weather was tough for what we do, but both teams had to play in it," Spittal said.
Agnoni and Osler said the Chiefs' drive to the title began long ago, when many of the seniors were together in youth football.
But it kicked into high gear on that long, quiet ride home after the team's lone loss of the season.
"That's where this title came from," Osler said. "You're looking for the motivation that got us here, and it was right there."
Cherokee 17 7 7 7 – 38
Eastern 0 0 2 0 – 2
C: Rob Agnoni 54 run (Ken Ravel kick)
C: Jesse Streb 32 pass from Trevor (Ravel kick)
C: FG Ravel 21
C: Matt Stickney 76 run (Ravel kick)
C: Marc Woodard 10 run (Ravel kick)
C: Jake Powell 19 pass from Osler (Ravel kick)
See and hear from Cherokee quarterback Trevor Osler.