Four, four, four.
Those were the rankings for the Moorestown Quakers football team heading into Friday night from every major media outlet in South Jersey.
That was how much stock Cherry Hill East was putting in those rankings.
So when the Cougars matched Moorestown punch-for-punch on offense and managed a fourth-quarter safety to hold on for a 26-25 win—the first one of the season for East—it may have shocked the region, but not the guys in the red and white jerseys.
"We kept our minds focused all week, not caring about them, but caring about us—how we were going to do on offense and defense," said sophomore quarterback Brandon Stern, who threw for three touchdowns in the win.
It was that focus and the preparation through the week that ultimately gave the team the edge, head coach Tom Coen said.
"We feel like we probably let two games get away from us," he said. "This validates a lot of the things we're doing."
While the Cougars had a handful of breakdowns on defense and special teams—Moorestown scored three times on plays of 65 yards or longer—they were able to limit the damage from Moorestown quarterback Tyreek Robinson, a dangerous player with both his feet and his arm, and found a rhythm in Stern's second start at QB.
Stern passed off the credit to his linemen and running backs, who helped open up the passing game for him to strike—and strike he did, twice hitting Nick DellaVecchia for scores (20 yards and 90 yards) along with a third score to Nick DiVito.
"It was more the ground game—it gave more passing lanes for the offense," Stern said. "They just didn't expect it."
The pass to DiVito at the 3:25 mark of the third quarter touched off a back-and-forth between the two teams that saw five lead changes over the next 18 minutes.
While Moorestown seemed to have an answer every time East scored—Sidney Ruffin broke an 80-yard run and a 91-yard kick return to give the Quakers back the lead—the game came down to the final two minutes.
With Moorestown facing fourth down deep in its own territory, Ruffin lined up to punt, only to see the snap sail over his head and bounce into the end zone. Ruffin was able to pounce on it before East players could converge on the ball, but he couldn't get out of the end zone, and East's Josh Flowers brought him down for the safety.
But the Cougars still had time to bleed away, and fed it to running back Daishi Goto to chew the clock down to 46 seconds before punting the ball away and giving the Quakers one last chance.
A couple of incomplete passes later, and it was over—East players stormed the field, exulting in their first win.
For Stern, it was all over after the safety. He said the way the team had been rolling up until then, it was only a battle with the clock.
"I wasn't nervous at all," he said.
The Cougars still have plenty of tests left this season, starting with Lenape next weekend, but Coen said they can build off this first victory of 2012.
"We're excited, and we've got a lot of work to do," he said.