Flacco spearheads Eastern comeback

Posted: October 20, 2012

His team trailed by 17-7 with less than nine minutes left, and Eastern junior quarterback Tom Flacco couldn't have been more excited.

"I said this is the fun time, the challenge of trying to come back," Flacco said.

He was speaking moments after Eastern did come back to defeat visiting Cherokee, 20-17, Friday night in a West Jersey Football League American Division thriller.

Eastern improved to 5-2, and while the Vikings might not have punched their Group 5 playoff ticket, they are awfully close to that. A win over Winslow Township before the cutoff date should seal things.

Meanwhile, Cherokee, which has earned eight sectional titles and made 23 postseason appearances since the advent of NJSIAA playoffs in 1974, is now 2-4 and will need to wait until next year for the playoffs. With such a young team, that should happen.

Right now, this is Eastern's time. The Vikings, coming off a 4-6 season, are back to their old, feared ways, and Flacco is a big reason.

He is a cool customer, running the no-huddle offense, and yes, he is the brother of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, but he's carving his own identity.

"He's deadly accurate," Cherokee coach P.J. Mehigan said. "You get a rush on him, and he still makes plays."

Such as the 17-yard, game-winning touchdown pass to Ryan Delaney with 1 minute, 48 seconds left that completed the comeback. Flacco was leveled on the play, but he had stood tall and made the throw.

"He showed his toughness on that play," Eastern coach Dan Spittal said.

Not to mention his arm and his touch.

Cherokee had taken a 17-7 lead on Trevor Osler's 1-yard run with 8:20 left, and that is when Flacco and his team went to work.

He guided Eastern on a six-play, 64-yard drive that ended with 14-yard scoring pass to Devon Nikolis, who made his share of big plays.

The extra-point kick was blocked, so Cherokee led, 17-13, with 6:48 left.

Eastern's defense held, and the Vikings got the ball back on their own 23 with 4:13 left. Flacco hit Delaney for the game-winner, capping an 11-play, 77-yard drive.

If he wasn't making big plays passing, Flacco was by running the ball or at least buying himself time to throw. For the game, he was 26 for 42 for 276 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, both in the first half.

He runs the no-huddle offense adeptly.

"Who wouldn't like this offense?" he said. "You get to throw the ball a lot."

And the Vikings also can run.

Junior T.J. Gardner scored on a 43-yard run in the first half and hurt the Chiefs by running or catching the ball.

Yet it was Flacco who was the catalyst.

"I am just happy for the seniors because they had not been in the playoffs," Flacco said. "You beat a rival like Cherokee, and it's such a great feeling."

That feeling came because the quarterback kept his cool and had the time of his life leading an impressive comeback.

Cherokee   3 7 0 7 – 17

Eastern   7 0 0 13 – 20

C: FG Kenneth Ravel 29

E: T.J. Gardner 43 run (Ed Kehoe kick)

C: Matthew Stickney 4 run (Ravel kick)

C: Trevor Osler 1 run (Ravel kick)

E: Devon Nikolis 14 pass from Tom Flacco (kick failed)

E: Ryan Delaney 17 pass from Flacco (Kehoe kick)

Contact Marc Narducci at mnarducci@phillynews.com or @sjnard on Twitter.

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