MADISON, NJ - Chatham's boys lacrosse team came out firing against Madison on Thursday and scored three goals in the first six minutes of the game. The Cougars held off a furious Dodgers comeback in the second half to defeat its neighborhood rival, 8-4, in Madison.
The victory ran Chatham's opening season streak to three games as they are 3-0 while Madison, who have faced three of the better teams in the state, have dropped their first three games of the season and are now 0-3.
As it turned out, Chatham's attacking style to start the game and keeping the ball in the Madison end was the difference.
Behind three goals from Cougars attacker Kyle Howard-Johnson, Chatham held a 5-0 lead by halftime in the battle of the neighborhood rivals. The Cougars' Joey Ritter collected three assists in the game.
All five of the first half goals came in the first quarter and it was enough to control the game.
"Getting off to a great start is always helpful," said Howard-Johnson, who scored the team's first two goals. "It is good to win especially against a cross-town rival. They are always tough."
For Madison head coach Mark Sweeney, it was a mixed bag. He liked how the team played in the second half, but it was still a loss.
"I think this was good because it showed that we can compete," said Sweeney whose team came in after a 17-2 loss at Seton Hall Prep in the last game. "At the end of the day though, it's still a loss."
What Sweeney liked was that Madison put a scare into Chatham's thoughts of winning its third game with the help of the Dodgers' Mark Langan who had a pair of goals in the game.
By the time Madison got going, Chatham had built a 7-0 lead with a goal each from Sam Carson and Thomas Guida in the first seven minutes of the third quarter. Both Carson and Guida collected two goals and one assist each for the day.
For the first 34 minutes the Chatham defense and goalie Corey Fritts stymied Madison, but Fritts finally allowed a goal as Dodgers Billy Battaglia scored with a little more than two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Madison made it an officially close game as Mark Langan scored the second of his two goals with a little more than six minutes remaining in the game. Langan's second goal made it a 7-4 Chatham lead.
But the Cougars were able to wrestle control of the play like they did in the first quarter and Cory Heidaran scored the capper for Chatham with a shot by Madison goalie Jack Ranney with two minutes remaining in the contest.
The victory continued the Cougars goal to get back to the Group 2 state final where they lost to Summit in an exhausting five-overtime battle last June.
"I felt bad for the seniors last year," said Howard-Johnson, who is a senior. "It left a sour taste for us and we want to get back there."
For Madison, it is a work in a progress and Sweeney knows that the improvement in the second half will be looking for its first win on Tuesday when the Dodgers travel to West Morris in Mendham.
"The key will be how we carry over this to the next game," said the Madison head coach.
Chatham is now looking to go 4-0 on the season as they host St. Peter's Prep on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Cougar Field.