LIVINGSTON, NJ - Pick any timeworn saying about defense and winning championships and glue it to the 2016 Chatham boys lacrosse team.
Defense was the name of the game for the Cougars on Wednesday night in winning their third NJSIAA Group 2 state championship in five years, 4-2 over Manasquan at Livingston High.
Manasquan (19-5) came into the game with 307 goals, an average of more than 13 per game and did not score over the final 21 minutes and 27 seconds of the championship game against Chatham (19-6).
Chatham coach Tony Calandra talks about holding teams to four goals. The Cougars cut that in half.
"They knew our game plan, but luckily we were able to put four in," Chatham senior attack Austin Pierce said. "It was not the game plan we expected. Hey, we got it done. I think we have one of the best defenses in the state. They always keep us in games and they definitely kept us in this one.
"I've been waiting three years to get a state championship. There is no better feeling."
Chatham is headed to the Tournament of Champions. In its state championship years of 2012 and 2013, the Cougars lost in the opening round of the T of C to Ridgewood.
"We'll see who our date is with for Saturday," Calandra said.
Jarrett Birch scored on Manasquan's first shot of the game to make it 1-0 before Mac Bredahl (2 goals, 2 assists) came from behind the net to score (see video below) and tie it at 1-1. Bredahl now has 101 points on the season.
Birch's 70th goal of the season handed Squan a 2-1 edge early in the third quarter. Will Hosbein won the ensuing faceoff for Chatham, which led to Matt Coleman's goal that made it 2-2.
Coleman ran toward Bredahl to receive the ball, then made a quick pivot and connected with is shot from in front.
Not only did the defense give up just two goals, it sparked the offense as well. With the score tied at 2-2, defensive middie Justin Hayes made a check to knock the ball loose, picked up the ground ball and cleared it into the offensive end, handing the ball over Bredahl.
That effort by Hayes turned into the winning goal as Bredahl fed Pierce, who finished his chance (see video above) for a 3-2 lead with 5:45 left in the third quarter.
Justin Hayes helped set up the winning goal with is check, ground ball and clear in the third quarter
Junior defender Geoff O'Malley, assigned to guard Birch, helped set up the fourth goal for Chatham with 2:29 left in the third quarter. Cougar defender Kyle Kology picked up a loose ball and fed O'Malley, who was fouled as he carried the ball forward. Timmy Adams took advantage of the foul to send a quick pass forward to Bredahl for a transition goal that made it 4-2.
"It was a quick restart," Adams said. "I knew the ref was going to blow the whistle and they didn't have time to get into the box."
Then, with 2:16 left in the third quarter, O'Malley took a hit to the head and had to be checked out for concussion signs. That put Will Sullivan into the game in O'Malley's place. Sullivan hadn't played since a regular-season knee injury vs. Mountain Lakes.
Geoff O'Malley was part of the great defensive effort for Chatham before a hit to the head sent him to the bench
"It's tough to see one of your starters go out, but we have Will Sullivan, one of the best players on the team, to step in," Chatham goalie Matt Nestler said. "We have a whole army. We can go all the way (to the TOC championship) at this point. We have three games to win."
Neither team scored in the fourth quarter, but Nestler made some of his best saves down the stretch to keep Manasquan at bay. He came up with a big stop with 1:28 left in the fourth.
"I still have some time to come up with a bigger one, but if felt good to come up with that save," Nestler said. "My defense is unbelievable. I was taking shots from the outside all day and that's what you want. Give me shots from 10, 15 yards out, that feels good."
Kology, O'Malley, Sullivan, Chris Conlin, Mark McNally, Pat Cosgrove, along with defensive middies Hayes, Adams and Jack Rooney contributed to the superb defensive effort.
"We held them to two goals," Calandra said. "Any time you an hold a team to two goals, you have a good shot to win the game. Matt Nestler came up with two, three big man-down saves. We did a great job of picking the ball up off the ground and we did what needed to do to win. Close games don't really faze us at this point."
Mac Bredahl talks about the defense and winning a low-scoring game
Matt Coleman's goal 3:19 into the third period tied the game at 2-2 for Chatham
Mac Bredahl tied the game at 1-1 in the first period with this unassisted goal