Saturday, December 3, 2005
By Vincent Lewis
The way the Chiefs from Cherokee finished the regular season to qualify for the group tournament was a separate story in itself. After losing their first two games of the regular season, the Chiefs were faced with a must win situation each week they took the field. That sense of urgency but with a great deal of patience allowed Cherokee to compile a winning streak against some very good football programs. Absegami would be that final test that the Chiefs had to pass and it didn’t start the way they wanted. Trailing by 19 points, Cherokee managed a comeback that will be remember for a very long time that sent this game into overtime. A touchdown in overtime and a defensive stop of the Braves capped a very successful season for Cherokee as their 32-25 victory allowed the Chiefs to hold the South Jersey Group IV trophy high above their heads.
Cherokee’s journey during the regular season had several road blocks that forced the Chiefs to find other ways around them. After losing to Pennsauken and Washington Township, the Chiefs convincingly won the next three games but the three ahead of them would be that test to see how they would finish out the season and qualify for the playoffs. Eastern, Shawnee and Winslow Township were all relatively close games that Cherokee would win, but the Renegades from Shawnee would be waiting during the semi-finals of group play. The Chiefs were seeded in the fourth position and cruised by Williamstown to face the number one seed. In that game, the Cherokee fans were rewarded with a victory at Shawnee. The fans would be looking to celebrate back to back victories on the road and Cherokee would wait awhile to do so.
On their first possession of the game, the Braves from Absegami quickly gave the capacity home crowd a lot to cheer about. It only took three plays for quarterback Mike Isgro to put Absegami on the scoreboard. Runningback Steve Hevalow was at the receiving end of a 60 yard touchdown reception and Absegami was ahead 6-0 with 11:32 remaining in the quarter. On their very next possession, the two hooked up again this time from 11 yards giving the Braves a twelve point lead. The ball continued to bounce the Braves way when they recovered their own fumble in the endzone early in the second quarter. Lee Jones was the right person for Absegami in the right place and the Braves had built a 19-0 lead with 10:51 remaining until halftime.
The Chiefs would be looking to get at least a touchdown before the half ended and Mike Salvatico was happy to do so. His 78 yard return on the ensuing kickoff took just 12 seconds off the clock. Twenty seconds later, defensive tackle Mike Kerbaugh tipped a pass attempt by Isgro and intercepted the ball recording a 33-yard touchdown. The coaching staff would be more than pleased to end the half trailing 19-12 instead of 19-0. But the defense was not done. Absegami would line up on their next series from scrimmage and Cherokee’s Shane Bothel stepped in front of an Isgro pass setting up the game tying drive. Quarterback Mark Walker completed a 21-yard touchdown pass to Chris Cowan and with Mike Giuliano’s extra point, Cherokee had quickly erased a deficit within two and a half minutes. The game settled down a bit after that and a brand new game would begin in the second half.
Absegami would retake the lead when Steve Hevalow scored from 44 yards out with 5:59 remaining in the quarter to take a 25-19 lead. Five minutes later, Salvatico scored on a 5 yard run and this game would be deadlock again. No one put any points on the scoreboard during the final fifteen minutes and this game had to be decided in overtime. With the ball placed at their opponent’s 25-yard line, the Chiefs went to work moving into scoring position. Walker would complete a third and long play to Cowan that ended at the 2 yard line. Two plays later, Walker had his own number called and the Chiefs were ahead by seven. Absegami’s efforts would end with a fumble that Cherokee’s linebacker Chris Henderson recovered to seal the Chiefs victory.