Winning a state championship is the ultimate in football.
However, losing a game in the same season after capturing one can leave an empty feeling.
That’s what the Hillside Comets experienced 12 months ago.
They do not intend to have that same feeling come Sunday.
Hillside (11-0) will clash with Cedar Creek (10-2) Sunday at 1 p.m. at Rutgers for the South, Group 2 Regional Championship.
Hillside won South Jersey, Group 2 for the first time after winning Central Jersey, Group 2 the past two seasons. Cedar Creek won CJG2 for the first time.
In order for Hillside to utilize its No. 1 strength, speed, as effectively as it can, one of the ingredients in the menu for success is to simply have possession of the ball.
“Against West Deptford we only had nine offensive plays in the first half,” Hillside Coach Barris Grant said, referring to his team’s state championship game comeback victory. “We need to possess the ball in order to make our quick-strike offense work.”
For the second straight season Hillside will put an 11-0 record on the line in a post-state title game.
Last year Hillside lost to Haddonfield 17-7 in the first South, Group 2 Regional Championship Game at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford. Hillside repeated as CJG2 champs, while Haddonfield won South Jersey, Group 2 at 12-0.
This year Hillside, as the third seed, was put in South Jersey, Group 2 for the first time and won it by beating sixth-seeded Cinnaminson 36-2 at home, defending champion and second-seeded Haddonfield 35-0 on the road and then top-seeded West Deptford 14-10, also on the road.
Hillside, which has now won 26 of its last 27 games dating back to November of 2017, will be facing a Cedar Creek team that is only nine seasons old and has already made the playoffs for a seventh time, with one state championship in South Jersey, Group 2 in 2015.
The Pirates of the West Jersey Football League captured the CJG2 state championship on Nov. 30 when they downed visiting Camden 31-23.
Cedar Creek lost at home to Camden 42-41 in regular season play back on Sept. 14.
Since falling at Pleasantville 18-6 on Oct. 4, the 10-2 Pirates have won six straight.
Cedar Creek is lifted by the talents of senior slotback-wide receiver Malachi Melton, among others.
“He’s their featured player on offense and defense,” Grant said. “They beat Bernards in the first round, so we know they’re pretty good.”
Bernards is the one common opponent.
Hillside beat Bernards 20-7 at home in Hillside’s second game and the first for Bernards on Sept. 14. Cedar Creek defeated Bernards 50-10 at home in its CJG2 semifinal played on Nov. 16.
Hillside has now won state championships the last three seasons. The Comets are the first team from Union County, and still the only one, to win a state championship in the playoff era in a Central Jersey section. They are now the only Union County team to win one in a South Jersey section.
Now Hillside wants to be the first team from Union County to win a Regional Championship Game.
So far Union County is 0-3, with Summit and Hillside losing last year and Union this year.
“This group, like last year’s, is out for perfection,” Grant said. “This would be the best Hillside team ever if it can finish 12-0.”
For a senior class that includes such standouts as Nahree Biggins, James Louis and James Westry, their ultimate goal is to go out with a victory despite having already won another state title.
“If you want to be great you have to be in a constant chase for something,” Grant said.
For the second straight season Hillside is Union County’s only undefeated team and its last alive in state tournament play.
T Nazareth Henry, junior, (6-5, 270)
G Hakim Allen, senior, (5-11, 210)
C Jayden Shaw, senior, (5-11, 230)
G Godley Pierre, senior, (5-10, 210)
T Khalid Hogan, senior, (6-1, 210)
L Mathew Ihemesie, soph., (6-0, 260)
L Nyal Belgrove, junior, (6-1, 260)
TE Isaiah McFadden, senior, (6-1, 190)
TE Akugbe Omokaro, senior, (6-1, 230)
WR Nahree Biggins, senior, (6-0, 190)
WR James Westry, senior, (5-8, 160)
WR Fatir Bell, junior, (5-10, 180)
WR Jonathan Delva, senior, (5-9, 150)
QB Gavin Melendez, senior, (6-3, 220)
RB James Louis, senior, (5-8, 180)
RB Jahon Moore, senior, (5-8, 215)
PK Jayson Rodrigues, junior, (5-9, 160)
Returning starters (4): Shaw,
Biggins, Melendez, Louis.
HILLSIDE’S 3-3 STACK
E Tyler Gardner, senior, (5-11, 205)
E Kevin Igiehon, junior, (6-2, 205)
NG Kozi Holston, senior, (5-10, 225)
OLB Akugbe Omokaro, senior, (6-1, 230)
MLB Godley Pierre, senior, (5-10, 210)
OLB Anu Okugbowa, senior, (5-11, 200)
R Jaylean Neals, senior, (5-9, 160)
R Tawayne Cook, junior, (5-8, 190)
CB James Westry, senior, (5-8, 160)
CB Isaiah Johnson, senior, (6-0, 165)
CB Dallas Guions, senior, *6-0, 160)
FS Nahree Biggins, senior, (6-0, 190)
FS Marcus Jerome, senior, (5-7, 160)
P Nahree Biggins, senior, (6-0, 190)
Returning starters (3): Omokaro,
HILLSIDE COMETS (11-0)
(A) Hillside 54, Spotswood 0
(H) Hillside 20, Bernards 7
(H) Hillside 34, Johnson 7
(H) Hillside 47, Roselle 0
(H) Hillside 48, South River 0
(A) Hillside 49, Bishop Ahr 0
(A) Hillside 20, Delaware Valley 14
(H) Hillside 53, Bound Brook 0
(H) Hillside 36, Cinnaminson 2
(A) Hillside 35, Haddonfield 0
(A) Hillside 14, West Deptford 10
Dec. 8 Cedar Creek, 1 p.m.
Head coach: Barris Grant,
fourth season: 35-10 (.778)
Section: South, Group 2
Conference: Mid-State 38
Division: Valley, 4-0 champs
Points for: 410
Points against: 40
CEDAR CREEK PIRATES (10-2)
(H) Cedar Creek 24, Willingboro 20
(A) Cedar Creek 34, Salem 12
(H) Camden 42, Cedar Creek 41
(H) Cedar Creek 42, Absegami 20
(A) Cedar Creek 29, Woodrow Wilson 28
(A) Pleasantville 18, Cedar Creek 6
(A) Cedar Creek 42, Oakcrest 6
(H) Cedar Creek 47, Delsea 12
(A) Cedar Creek 41, Camden Catholic 7
(H) Cedar Creek 49, Point Pleasant Boro 14
(H) Cedar Creek 50, Bernards 10
(H) Cedar Creek 31, Camden 23
Dec. 8 Hillside, 1 p.m.
Head coach: Tim Watson,
ninth season since 2011: 71-26 (.732)
Section: South, Group 2
Conference: West Jersey Football League
Division: Constitution, 4-1 champs