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ABSECON – Kevin Dougherty calls it the “Revenge Tour.”

Since the Cedar Creek High School football team limped to a 3-5 record last season, one that included a 41-0 rout at the hands of Holy Spirit, the Pirates’ journey has been filled with plenty of redemption.

Friday night, there wasn’t going to be a biggest stop on the schedule.

Cedar Creek’s defense delivered a dominant performance and Ja’Quan Howard finished it off with some tough running in a final drive that chewed the final 7 minutes, 47 seconds left off the clock--and locked up a 7-6 upset win over top-ranked Holy Spirit at Ed Byrnes Stadium.

“We’re on a mission, this is our comeback season, we’re on a revenge tour,” said Dougherty, a senior 6-foot-2, 220-pound defensive end who had a key strip sack and fumble recovery. “This defense is amazing, it’s the best in the history of Cedar Creek in my opinion. We just eat and hold it together.”

More: Student fan section, band, cheerleaders bring school spirit to Friday Night Football

Cedar Creek head coach James Melody said there’s been a different approach with this band of Pirates.

“They play with tenacity, play with a chip on our shoulders,” he said. “They came off a rough year last year and I think these kids wanted to come out and make a statement this season. They’ve done a pretty good job of that so far.”

Cedar Creek (6-0) made plenty of noise through the first five weeks of the season, outscoring its opponents 206-8, but the Pirates sent shockwaves through the Garden State by knocking off the No. 1 team in South Jersey and the third-ranked team in the state.

“We had blowout (wins), but we didn’t let anyone score, it’s not an easy task,” Dougherty said. “All it takes is for one person to make a mistake for a six points. Our defense is just doing what they’re doing. We’re not satisfied though. We’re going to enjoy this, come back to school (Saturday) and watch film for next week. That’s what we do.”

Cedar Creek’s defense held Holy Spirit to its lowest output in 53 games dating back to 2016, and handed the Spartans’ their first loss against South Jersey competition in 15 games.

The Pirates forced two takeaways, including a pick by Elijah Smalls in the third quarter, but it was a fourth-down stop at the Pirate 17 in the fourth quarter that was crucial. Faced with a fourth-and-two, Jayden Torres, Malik Moore-Summers and Dougherty gang-tackled the Holy Spirit ball carrier short of the line to gain.

“We’re tough, we don’t look at size too much, we used our speed to our advantage here,” Melody said.

With 7:47 left to play in the game, Cedar Creek let Howard take center stage like a guitarist getting ready for a solo jam. The 5-10, 205-pound back barreled his way through the line 10 times on the final drive, running behind an offensive line, which was smaller but was certainly more productive on this drive. Howard rushed for four first-downs on the drive, the final one leading to the victory formation.

“The game was on the line,” Howard said. “They were telling me, this is your drive right here. So I had to show what I was all about, 110 percent every play. Fortunately, I was getting yardage, they just kept feeding me the rock and we ended the game.

“Coach Melody looked me in the eyes and said, 'End the game.' That’s what I had to do.”

Cedar Creek scored its lone touchdown on its first drive, culminating with Justin Castillo’s 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

Holy Spirit answered in the third quarter when backup quarterback Sean Burns, who relieved Trevor Cohen for one series after the starter suffered a leg injury, completed his two passes, including a 16-yard touchdown strike to Elijah Steward. The extra-point was missed.

Howard said the two teams have developed a “little something” of a rivalry with Holy Spirit and there was plenty of talking on social media leading up to the big game.

“We had to come out and give them a show,” he said.

The Pirates certainly managed to do that, but the tour isn’t close to be over.

Tom McGurk is a regional sports reporter for the Courier-Post, The Daily Journal and Burlington County Times, covering South Jersey sports for over 30 years. If you have a sports story that needs to be told, contact him at (856) 486-2420 or email tmcgurk@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @McGurkSports. Help support local journalism with a digital subscription.

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