CHATHAM, NJ - There were a number of "firsts" of note in Chatham's football opener on Thursday.
The only problem for the home team was that it never got its first touchdown of the season in an 8-3 loss to Montville at Cougar Field.
The game featured the first game back to Cougar Field for Montville coach Don Morgenroth, who had coached Chatham the previous four seasons; the first game for new Chatham head coach Jason Izsa; the first snap as a quarterback for Montville's Booker McLean and the first field goal attempt for 13-year-old Timmy Adams of Chatham.
On the very first play from scrimmage for Montville, converted wide receiver McLean took his first snap from center in a real game. The senior cut upfield and raced untouched 68 yards for a touchdown and a 6-0 lead. Chatham never recovered in absorbing its 12th straight loss, dating back to 2011.
"The line hit the blocks hard, I saw the hole and I took it," McLean said. "I didn't think (it would hold up), I wanted to score again."
But Chatham's defense stiffened against Montville's triple-option the rest of the game and the only problem was that the Cougars couldn't solve the Mustangsg defense.
"We had a college coach come in and help us with our option game and he said, 'he's your boy,' '' Morgenroth said of McLean. "It was definitely emotional (coming back to Chatham). I can't wait to relax, call Jason (Izsa) tonight and talk about the game, They played good defense on us. They know our option game and the did a great job to defend it."
Chatham, which had trouble holding onto the ball in the first half, made another mistake late in the second quarter. A high snap sailed out of reach of Chatham punter Jack Duane, who managed to cover up the ball in the end zone for a safety and an 8-0 Montville lead with 1:43 left before halftime.
Duane had a busy day for Chatham and he made the play that led to the Cougars' only points when he made an interception and returned it 34 yards to the Montville 11-yard line. Chatham moved the ball to the six, but had to settle for a 21-yard field goal by Adams.
Adams, a freshman, isn't even listed on the varsity roster, but, because of an injury to Nick Hill, he was pressed into duty.
"I was pretty nervous," Adams said. "Once I got on the field, I knew I could do it."
Adams' kick split the uprights with 30.4 seconds left in the half.
The rain started to fall at the start of the second half. Chatham seemed up to the task, however, playing some of its best defense in the third quarter. But the Cougars received a bad break when Montville was forced to punt and the ball hit the back of a Chatham player and was recovered by the Mustangs.
"I thought we prepared really well for this game, but we missed some opportunites, we were down near the goalline twice from an interception and a catch and I thought our lack of opportunites to put points on the board hurt us," Duane said. "One touchdown, if we could have capitalized, the game would have been different."
Izsa said the starting quarterback job was going to be a game-day decision and he chose senior Sean Landolfi as his starter. But, as planned, sophomore quarterback Alex Sands alternated series running the Chatham offense.
In the fourth quarter, Sands was calling the signals when Chatham started on its own 18 and put together its most prolonged drive of the day. Sands' pass for Hill was flagged for interferance and that got the Cougars going. The big play came when Sands threw a lofting pass that Duane leaped to catch near the right sideline, a 34-yard gain to the Montville 23.
"It was a wheel play, I think (Sands) looked the other way first and then saw I was open," Duane said.
Duane followed with a two-yard run and, two plays later, Connor Sardini's 12-yard burst moved the ball to the 14. But Hill's fourth-down run up the middle was just short of a first down and another opportunity was lost.
"The weather conditions made it a little harder in he second half," Duane said. "Putting the ball on the ground (fumbles) was a problem in the first half, but we talked at it and we were able to limit it to zero turnovers in the second half.
"I think we all wanted this really bad. We're not going to let it get to us. After the film tomorrow we've got to get it out of our minds so we can have a big Cougar weekend."