SUMMIT, NJ - As far as Chatham is concerned, the road to the state sectional boys lacrosse championship always seems to run through Summit and the Cougars are hoping it leads there again this season.
If the regular-season matchup between Chatham and Summit is any indication, another epic battle has the potential to materialize in the state tournament.
"They're unbelievable," Summit senior long stick Alex Dadourian said. "That was a huge win for us and we have to go through them twice. We have to go through them to get to the group championship. This is one of the best teams we've played. They're definitely up there."
A rematch is the long-term goal for Chatham after undefeated Summit topped the Cougars, 6-5, Saturday at Tatlock Field.
Corey McManus scored his second goal of the game 4:25 into the fourth quarter to stake Summit (9-0) to a 6-4 lead. But Chatham (7-4) made sure the game would be in doubt until the final seconds ticked off when Austin Pierce completed a fast-break goal that made it 6-5 with 4:50 left.
Cougar defenseman Geoff O'Malley knocked the ball loose and picked up the ground ball before passing ahead to Kyle Kology. Kology carried forward and hit a sprinting Pierce, who finished for his second goal.
A few minutes later, Kology took control of a ground ball and Chatham called time with 2:35 left. Despite maintaining possession in the offensive end, the Cougars never got a good shot at the tying goal.
"I thought we had a couple opportunities, we just didn't pull the trigger on them," Chatham coach Tony Calandra said. "I thought we played well in spurts and didn't play well in other spurts. I thought we battled and played hard. We won a lot of 50-50 ground balls in the second half."
The game was a scoreless until Pierce dodged his way into the middle and fired a shot that made it 1-0 for Chatham 4:29 into the second period. Defenseman Dadourian gave the Hilltoppers momentum when he picked up a ground ball and dashed the length of the field to score and make it 1-1.
"I was trying to find a middie at first, but no one picked me up," said Dadourian, who also scored a goal vs. Delbarton this season.
Corey McManus and Xavier McCormick followed with goals to hand Summit a 3-1 advantage heading into the break.
Chatham raised its game in the third quarter. Matt Coleman picked up a rebound and fired it home from close range to make it 3-2 just 1:59 into the second half. But Summit got a big lift from Jack Johnson, who picked up a ground ball and scored with an over-the-shoulder shot with his back to the net.
Coleman threw a pass from behind the net that Mac Bredahl turned into a goal that cut the Chatham deficit to 4-3. Coleman then came from behind the net and got off a shot from a horizontal position that found the back of the net for 4-4 tie with 1:37 left in the third.
Johnson's goal with 56 seconds left in the third regained the lead for Summit at 5-4. Coleman followed with a downhill run for a shot that banged off the pipe in the closing seconds of the third quarter.
"We're playing well," Coleman said. "We just have to be consistent. We're coming out in practice every day and trying our hardest. Today we were just unlucky."
All four games Chatham has lost this season have been by one goal to Summit, Delbarton (9-8 in OT), Seton Hall Prep (9-8) and Westfield (8-7).
"These games are going to help us down the stretch," Coleman said. "When we need to win them, we can look back on these games and it will be helpful that we experienced those situations."
Austin Pierce scores in the second quarter to give Chatham a 1-0 lead
Matt Coleman scores the first of his two third-period goals for Chatham