ROCKAWAY, NJ - The Cougars received a humbling wakeup call Saturday when they marched into Rockaway to take on the Knights of Morris Hills in an NJAC American Division matchup.
Both teams were 2-2 and looked to break their .500 records in a positive way. Although, the Cougars left with a 28-7 loss and a worse record, they feel they have a better understanding of their program and what it takes to win.
After coming off two consecutive wins over quality opponents, Chatham'a players were full of confidence.
“Its good to come in and play with confidence but not to the point where you are coming into a game that relaxed and underestimate the other team,” Chatham junior quarterback Alex Sands said.
Looking back, multiple Cougars turn to the overconfidence to explain a poor week of practice and lack preparedness coming in. And this, as all Chatham fans could see, correlated to the lackadaisical start to the game.
Morris Hills (3-2, 2-2 American) took to the scoreboard early in the first thanks to special teams play, something often overlooked at the high school level. After blocking a punt attempt by sophomore Cougar Timmy Adams, Nick Walls pounced on the ball bouncing into the end zone. However, the extra point was missed.
Chatham’s offense struggled to reach the continuity that it was running with the past two weeks.
“I think the offense was working the best during our stints in the no huddle and after we were able to establish the run game," Sands said. "But a lot of penalties really put us in tough positions where it was difficult to get some first
The Morris Hills offense took the momentum from the special teams play and added to their score with another from Walls. Walls took a reception from quarterback Daymon Fleming for a 40 yard score. Then, the Knights converted a two-point conversion and carried a 14-0 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Despite a scoreless third quarter, Chatham’s offense was beginning to come into its own. Junior Michael O’Connell really found his role this week in both the passing and rushing game from the backfield and out wide. A very versatile athlete who showed promising potential in a rather dull day from the Cougar offense.
The clear highlight of the day for the offense came early in the fourth when Sands hit Adams for a 35-yard score. After the conversion on the kick by Adams, the Cougars were back in a one-possession ball game at 14-7.
Matt Nestler has made impacts on both sides of the ball so far this season for Chatham and has been a shot of energy in every snap. Never more than Saturday's fourth quarter was Nestler’s heart and gritty determination shown when he forced two fumbles to try to give his offense more chances to tie the game.
Despite the defense’s relentless efforts, Morris Hills was able to exploit them when Fleming reached Kyle Gaeb for a 70-yard TD catch.
At this point, Michael O’Connell described, “Things started to really get chippy out there," O'Connell said. "(Chris) Bredahl got his helmet thrown off and it seemed like there were penalty flags every play.”
After the Chatham offense stalled one last time, Morris Hills was able to pound another score in with Mike Dietrech’s 1-yard run.
“We need all 11 players on the field to perform...we know that now but unfortunately it didn’t work out that way," Chatham running back Justin Hayes said. "Were looking to forget this week and move on fully focused on Vernon for Cougar Night.”