The Chargers really didn't oversleep on Thursday morning. They just found themselves in a tough battle with a big, strong, motivated opponent on a quagmire of a field - and with a little bit of a tricky task in terms of motivation.
It's always this way for teams set to play in championship games the first weekend in December. That complicates the approach to the annual Thanksgiving weekend game and creates a dilemma for coaches in terms of injury risk.
Ultimately, Timber Creek received a big lift in the fourth quarter from senior quarterback Calvin Lowe and secured the victory that clinched the West Jersey Football League Royal Division title and recaptured the "Turkey Bowl" trophy for the Chargers.
Oh, yeah. Timber Creek also improved to 11-0 entering the South Jersey Group 3 championship game against Hammonton on Dec. 3 at Rowan University.
"Every game is a big game when you are undefeated," said Lowe, who ran for Timber Creek's first touchdown and passed 8 yards to sophomore Isaiah Austin for the second.
Every game is a big game for the opponent of an undefeated team, too. That's what makes 12-0 so difficult for public-school programs - the bull's-eye on the back of the uniform that gets bigger and bigger every week during an undefeated season.
Triton was open for business in this game. The Mustangs entered play with an 8-2 record, with both losses to Pennsauken. They had a chance to win the Royal title, keep the trophy they won with last year's stunning victory, and cap a remarkable bounce-back season.
"I'm so proud of my seniors for what they did this season," Triton coach Pete Goetz said.
The conditions were good for a Triton upset - a slow, sloppy field that played more to the Mustangs' strengths (power, ball control) than the Chargers' (speed, big plays).
Triton senior quarterback Brian Keller ran 16 times for 91 yards. He's a 6-foot-3, 225-pound fullback in a quarterback's uniform. He also plays a mean defensive end.
"Tebow," Hinson calls Keller, referring to the Denver Broncos quarterback who wears the same number (15) and plays the same rugged style.
Triton played strong defense as cornerbacks Alan Richards and Chris Baylor had interceptions, safety James Burns recovered a fumble, and inside linebackers Dan Bekier and Chance Negri limited Timber Creek's running game.
"We really had a chance," Goetz said. "You just can't turn the ball over against a good team like that."
Both teams were hurt by turnovers and missed opportunities. Credit both defenses and the sloppy field for that.
But this has been Timber Creek's year from Day 1. The Chargers have found a way, usually through a dominating defense, but also with enough offense at opportune moments.
Without linebacker Quanzell Lambert, resting a sore ankle, Timber Creek wasn't quite as overpowering as usual on defense. The Chargers received good work from tackles Greg Webb and Jamil Stephenson, and Myles Nash and Taliq Chambers recovered fumbles and Justice Davila came up with a huge interception.
Lowe ran 13 times for 77 yards and was 11 for 21 passing for 145 yards. His 34-yard strike to Austin set up the clinching touchdown and probably was the prettiest play of the day.
But it wasn't a day for pretty plays. It wasn't a day for neat, clean, and tidy.
Except for where it reads "11-0" for Timber Creek's record.
Triton 0 0 3 0 – 3
Timber Creek 0 0 0 13 – 13
T: FG Cowley 29
TC: Lowe 1 run (Casey kick)
TC: Austin 8 pass from Lowe (kick failed)
Contact staff writer Phil Anastasia at 856-779-3223, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @PhilAnastasia on Twitter. Read his blog, "Jersey Side Sports," at www.philly.com/jerseysidesports