Then Eastern started coming back.
"I was getting a pit in my stomach," Stickney said.
For good reason.
Tom Flacco found Cinque Hill on a 32-yard scoring pass with 5:20 remaining and then hit Keshawn Segers for a 5-yard score with just 38.1 seconds left.
Cherokee then ended the late suspense when Evan Powell recovered an onside kick.
"I thought especially in the first half we came out and took care of business," Cherokee coach P.J. Mehigan said. "In the second half, we made too many mistakes and had too many penalties, and credit them for doing a great job coming back and making it a little too close for comfort."
Also credit Stickney, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound senior running back and cornerback. He rushed for 125 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries, caught a touchdown pass, and had a key first-half interception.
"I've got to give credit to the offensive line. The holes were huge," Stickney said.
The top three teams in the American Division have all had their moments.
Cherokee's lone loss was by 13-10 to Williamstown. Eastern beat Williamstown, 14-0. And now Cherokee has defeated Eastern.
Don't be surprised if two of the teams are still standing in the South Jersey Group 5 title game.
Cherokee did a good job on Eastern's highly touted Flacco. The Vikings senior completed 18 of 31 passes for 207 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions.
Cherokee took a 21-0 halftime lead, but Mehigan feared it wasn't enough.
Marc Woodard's 4-yard touchdown run on Cherokee's first possession capped a 10-play, 69-yard drive.
Then Stickney took over, first catching a 32-yard scoring pass from Trevor Osler with 8:44 left in the first half, extending the lead to 14-0.
The key drive in the first half occurred when Cherokee took over on its own one-foot line after a penalty with 4:45 left in the second quarter.
The Chiefs got two first downs before Stickney darted 77 yards for a touchdown with just 1:24 left.
"I told the line, 'Guys, I am still running hard on this last run and don't count me out,' and the hole opened and I busted it," Stickney said.
In the first half, the Chiefs put serious heat on Flacco, and senior linebacker Zach Andes recorded two sacks.
Flacco had more time in the second half, but Cherokee had put a little too much distance in the opening two quarters.
Eastern coach Dan Spittal credited his team for fighting until the end, but he understood how difficult it was to come back against a team the caliber of Cherokee.
"We needed another defensive stop in the second half that we didn't get," Spittal said. "There are things we need to work on and get better and some things were exposed tonight, so we have to go back to the drawing board on Monday."
Eastern 0 0 7 14 – 21
Cherokee 7 14 0 7 – 28
C: Marc Woodard 4 run (Ken Ravel kick)
C: Matt Stickney 32 pass from Trevor Osler (Ravel kick)
C: Stickney 77 run (Ravel kick)
E: Eric Sawyer 7 run (Todd Spirt kick)
C: Stickney 2 run (Ravel kick)
E: Cinque Hill 32 pass from Tom Flacco (Spirt kick)
E: Keshawn Segers 5 pass from Flacco (Spirt kick)
See and hear from Cherokee senior Matt Stickney, Chiefs coach P.J. Mehigan, and Eastern coach Dan Spittal.