Cherry Hill East hosts first battle of the boot against Cherry Hill West

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Courtesy of Tyler Leomporra ('21)

Quarterback Seba Miller (’21) prepares to hike the ball on fourth down against Cherry Hill High School West on Saturday.

The Cougars took on the Lions on Saturday, October 31, a Halloween that will go down in history as Cherry Hill East was the venue for the annual game. The rivalry between these two schools dates back decades, but the stadium of choice has always been on the west side. That changed this year as the two teams would battle for the Al Dibartolomeo boot at the Cougars’ stadium.

It was a cold, wet morning when the teams began to warm up. The stadium was capped off at 500 fans, so the normal Thanksgiving aura was not present, but the players were as prepared as always. Jadon Louis (‘21) and Nick Arcaroli (‘21) represented their teams at the coin flip, and West would defer, giving East the ball to begin this homecoming affair.

Tyler Burke (‘21) would be on return duties most of the day for the Cougars, including several big returns late in the game. The game plan was for East to run the ball with Nick Brown (‘21) early and often, and it proved lethal early on.

Rhys Green (‘21) and Louis would create gaps in the line for Brown, fullback Kelvin Parris (‘22) and fellow senior Justin Becker. After a turnover on downs for East on the first drive, West took over with superb field position, facing an East defense that has been stout all season long, especially in the two preceding games against Bishop Eustace and Robbinsville.

West would start on offense with a drastic fumble by Josh Jean-Baptiste (‘21), West’s running back who has run the ball well this season. Mark Hendri (‘22) received the ball on consecutive end-arounds this drive, but two more incompletions handed the ball right back into the hands of their rivals.

This game was very back-and-forth from the jump, with punts and turnovers highlighting what proved to be a fairly even first half. East quarterback Seba Miller (‘21) would have to step into the main role on offense late in the first quarter after a fumble by Brown saw him get injured on the play, and out for the game. East would also lose Hendri in this quarter.

The second quarter began with a blank scoreboard as both teams looked to strike first. There were a select few players who would make big impacts in this game, and two of these talents were on display as Jadon Louis and Makhi Thompson (‘22) of West took over. Louis would record consecutive sacks and a tackle for loss, proving to be a force in both pass and run defense for the East line. Thompson would make a highlight-reel grab down the right sideline from a dime by Arcaroli, and recorded an interception on top of two other gains.

A Justin Becker interception and two more punts kept this game at a stalemate heading into halftime. During the break, each grade honored two homecoming representatives on the field, an honor that is usually received with more claps than were present at the 11 am COVID-edition of the crosstown rivalry.

The third quarter began with West on offense, but a quick Tyler Burke (‘21) interception would once again shift the momentum in this seesaw of a game. Becker took over running back duties for East, getting short gains that were each followed by play-action throws. On the fifth play of the drive, a Miller pass would get picked off by West’s Chris Church Jr. (‘21), setting West up nicely.
Arcaroli would connect with Louis Ragsdale (‘22) on a big screen, and two plays later Jean-Baptiste would take a handoff to the left all the way back to the right for a 13-yard score. As the extra point sailed through the uprights with 8 minutes remaining in the half, you can tell the momentum was shifting.

The game got chippy on the next few drives with many flags, and the only big play coming on a screen pass by Arcaroli that would be knocked out for a fumble by Becker and recovered by Burke. The safety duo were all over the field on both sides of the ball for the Cougars this game.

Jean-Baptiste would finish off the quarter with a 35-yard touchdown for the Lions, getting to the edge and never looking back, giving them a 14-0 lead heading into the fourth.

The quarterbacks would start to handle the ball more this quarter, with both Miller and Arcaroli beginning their drives with several sneaks and read-option plays. Miller would complete a big fourth down to Alex Tanaka (‘23), but failed to convert on 4th and 6 four plays later. Two rushes and two penalty flags later and West would grab a 21-0 lead.

Ragsdale took the ball right down the heart of the East defense on a rush, a devastating blow to the home team. Ragsdale would get on the scoreboard four plays later as well, taking an interception 20 yards for a touchdown, and solidifying West’s win with a 28-0 victory.

East was unable to cap off a brilliant defensive performance early in the game and hope to get back in the win column with a game in hand against Hightstown.

This pandemic has set new precedents in a multitude of ways this year, but one thing is for sure, the spirit of rivalry in sports cannot be stopped. Cherry Hill East and West continue to prove that each year, and this football game was a sense of normalcy for all in attendance, a normalcy we hope to continue into this winter. Roll Cougs.

Safety Tyler Burke (‘21) poses for the camera after his second forced turnover on the day.
(Courtesy of Tyler Leomporra (’21))