CHATHAM, NJ - About three minutes into the fourth quarter, Chatham's Rich Berger had his stick snapped in two during a challenge by a West Morris player. Berger experienced a helpless few seconds as he tried to keep playing without his stick.
That pretty much epitomized how the Morris County Tournament boys lacrosse quarterfinal game went for Chatham on Thursday, with the Cougar players feeling helpless against a fired-up West Morris squad.
West Morris overcame a four-goal deficit to knock Chatham from the tournament, 7-5, and earn a measure of revenge at the same time.
Last month, Chatham played a regular-season game at West Morris and came away with an 18-6 victory. That score was on the mind of the Wolfpack players in this one, especially senior goalie Alex Kennedy.
"This was a big game because we had played them a week or two ago and they really beat us up good," Kennedy said. "I only played a quarter of that game because I had to leave for family reasons, but they took no mercy on us. We had a rookie goalie in there and they shot on him literally to the last second. So this was a little sweet payback because they didn't really respect us."
Chatham (11-6) may have felt it was in for another easy victory after it opened a 4-0 lead. Scott Lynch got the Cougars started when he picked up a ground ball and scored unassisted for a 1-0 lead. David Gill followed with a sidearm blast to make it 2-0. Lynch set up the goal when he fought his way through three West Morris defenders to secure possession in the offensive end.
Austin Pierce connected from the left of the cage after receiving a feed from Evan Bernard as Chatham took a 3-0 lead into the second period.
When Rich Berger scored 7:40 into the second period, Chatham had a 4-0 lead. But Kyle Skurchak and Ryan Muscatella scored before the break to swing the momentum toward West Morris (9-6).
"Probably (we were a little overconfident), that probably had something to do with it," Gill said. "We had a pretty good start and they just took over."
Chatham's offense went dry from that point until Pierce scored with 27 seconds left in the game. By then, it was too late.
"Our offense all year struggled to possess the ball and today they did a very good job of controlling the ball, taking their time on our possessions," said Kennedy, who finished with nine saves. "That really helped us out on defense. Our biggest flaw is that our defense gets exhausted from playing minutes on minutes of defense. I really think our offense deserves credit for the way our defense played today."
Muscatella's goal with 44.5 seconds left in the third quarter gave West Morris a 5-4 edge heading into the final 12 minutes. Goals by Cooper Sloan and Ryan Pruss boosted the lead to 7-4 for the Wolfpack.
"I thought we broke down all over," Chatham coach Tony Calandra said. "We had the lead and we stopped scoring, stopped shooting and were throwing the ball all over the place. We didn't really take many shots. We allowed them to gain momentum."
Alex Kennedy of West Morris makes one of his nine saves vs. Chatham in video below