This wasn't a clash of two great teams. Both entered with 1-8 records.
But this was a great game, and a great event.
The rivalry is one of the best in South Jersey. These schools are connected - both their bands combine to play the national anthem, and both schools introduced their homecoming courts at halftime.
The playing conditions were wild - a thick snowstorm for much of the first half, then hard rain, then an icy mix. By the end, the field was a quagmire. "My hands are frozen. I could barely cut out there," said Cherry Hill West senior Terrell Williams, who rushed 22 times for 93 yards. "It was tough, but we had to push through."
Best of all, it was a competitive, hard-hitting, scrappy, sloppy game that came down to a daring decision by Cherry Hill East coach Tom Coen and a controversial non-call in the decisive moment of the 42d renewal of the rivalry.
Cherry Hill East closed to within 13-12 with 4 minutes, 40 seconds remaining on a 1-yard run by sophomore quarterback Blaise Paglione. The touchdown capped a 19-yard drive that began with a botched punt by Cherry Hill West, and that crazy play was a culmination of a sequence in which the teams combined for four turnovers on the first five possessions of the second half.
One of those turnovers was a Cherry Hill East fumble that Cherry Hill West sophomore linebacker Greg Smolsky recovered in the end zone for a touchdown that gave the Lions a 13-6 lead. "I was the lucky one," Smolsky said. "Everybody else did the work. The ball was just laying there. It was the best feeling in the world."
Cherry Hill East showed resolve by using some hard running by junior Brian Regan (23 carries, 101 yards, one touchdown) and a couple of big scrambles by Paglione to pull to within a point and set the stage for the crucial try for a go-ahead, two-point conversion. "We weren't going to play for a tie," Coen said of declining to try the one-point conversion kick. "We wanted to push the issue a little bit."
Cherry Hill East lined up, but before the snap, Coen ran onto the field to signal a time-out. A Cougars wide receiver tried to do the same thing.
But the ball was snapped, and Paglione was stopped short of the goal line. "I don't think I could have yelled any louder," Coen said.
Cherry Hill West took the ensuing kickoff and ran nearly four minutes off the clock, as Williams carried five times for 22 yards behind an offensive line that featured seniors John Smythe and James Knox and senior tight end Kyle Sheary.
The drive all but sealed the victory and marked this group of Lions seniors as special in another way: They are the first group to finish four years in the program with four victories over Cherry Hill East.
"Coach told us at halftime - it's the last half for the seniors," Williams said. "This is something we'll remember for the rest of our lives."
Cherry Hill West 0 6 7 0 – 13
Cherry Hill East 0 6 0 6 – 12
CHE: Brian Regan 6 run (kick failed)
CHW: Rodney Williams 7 run (kick failed)
CHW: Greg Smolsky fumble recovery in end zone (Tyler Layton kick)
CHE: Blaise Paglione 1 run (run failed)
Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.