ROCKAWAY, NJ - Chatham High School became the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 Champions with a 2-1 victory over Morris Hills highlighted by Brian Graham’s two-goal performance on Friday afternoon.
Graham is the leading scorer for the Cougars with 17 goals and tallied his sixth and seventh goals in his fourth state tournament game.
Chatham (13-6-2) plays Northern Highlands (18-2-2), the Section 1 champion, in the Group 3 state semifinals, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Millburn High.
“He does a lot of things well off the ball like closing guys down, pressing and he brings great spirit, and obviously the goals are huge too,” Cougars head coach Mark Maka said. “He brings a lot more to it than you see on paper.”
Graham gave his Cougars the lead in the 25th when Jared Wood sent a ball into the box toward the far post, and Graham came flying in for a header that passed Knights’ keeper Alex Nestor.
“I knew I had to bring it today and my teammates really put us in good spots,” Graham said.
Chatham wasn’t satisfied with the one-goal lead and added another goal before the half. Captain P.J. DiBenedetto launched a ball from his own territory and placed it right in front of a sprinting Graham. Graham took a touch and then banged it to the far side of the net under a diving Nestor to give Chatham a comfortable 2-0 lead.
“We have a lot of great leaders on this team,” Graham said. “Our seniors and captains do a great job and provide a good example for me. I've developed more as a leader because of them.”
Morris Hills continued to fight in the second half and caught Chatham on their heels a bit in the 66th minute when Brandon Scholtz found Kevin Hopkins for a goal on transition.
“We went into a shell after we went up a couple goals when what we needed to do was keep playing,” Maka said. “We’re going to address not taking our foot off the pedal and keep going after teams because that’s when we're at our best.”
The Knights brought the pressure for the final 20 minutes but Chatham effectively passed the ball around to waste the clock until the final whistle blew.