BERNARDSVILLE, NJ – Dave Fiumara, a first-year varsity football player who switched sports after playing three years of soccer, was the unlikely hero for the Chatham Cougars as he nailed the game winning 34 yard field goal with 1.3 seconds left in the fourth quarter to propel his team to a 10-7 victory over Bernards High School in the first round of the NJSIAA North 2, Group 2 Tournament on Friday night.
With the score knotted at seven a piece, Chatham had a chance to win a game that they had been trailing in the whole way through until late in the final quarter. The ball was at the Bernard’s 18 yard line when Chatham Head Coach Don Morgenroth took a timeout with 5.6 seconds left to give his team the chance to line up for the long kick.
Fiumara was ready for the attempt after that, but then Bernards Head Coach Jon Simoneau took a time out of his own in an attempt to freeze the kicker. It did not matter for Fiumara and the Chatham kicking team as the senior waited for the snap and then boomed a kick that died down a bit at the end before going through the up rights.
“I just stayed calm. Right when I hit it I knew it was going in,” Fiumara said of his game winner.
The kick was his second attempt of the game. He tried at a 40 yarder right before halftime; the ball had enough distance, but it was just wide
“I knew what I did wrong," Fiumara said. "The first time I kicked… I lined up wrong. I lined up better the second time; right through the up rights."
The Chatham offense was stagnant for virtually the entire game as quarterback Sammy Failla and halfback Corey Hiederan did not have an answer for the tough, physical Bernards defense. That was until the final 1:17 when they put together a 41 yard touchdown drive before making a stop to get the ball again in an attempt to win the game.
“We feel like our kids are capable of getting it done. We keep instilling that, ‘don’t believe that you’re ever down,’” Morgenroth said. “We have the plays in there and we called the right plays at the right time."
And the Chatham coaching staff did call all the right plays on the team’s game tying drive.
On the very first play from scrimmage halfback Dylan Adams ran for 29 yards down the left side of the field to bring the ball down to the Bernards 13 yard line. Failla then ran for nine yards on a designed quarterback draw before punching it into the end zone from less than a yard out a few plays later. Fiumara’s extra point capped a 4 play 1:58 long drive to draw even.
“Our D gave us great field position. We knew it was our turn to step up. We went down there, drove; had to put it in,” Failla said ater the game. “Everyone knew their assignments. Everyone played great."
“What I liked the best was our offensive line. We always say ‘taste the blood right there in the end zone’. They said they tasted it. They came off. They said, ‘coach we tasted the blood’ and they got in,” Morgenroth said.
The defense for Chatham gave an outstanding effort as they kept their team in a game in which the offense could not provide a spark.
They were able to force four punts, recover a fumble and make two stops on fourth down. A key fourth down stop came when Chatham was down 7-0 midway through the fourth quarter when quarterback Devin Ray was thwarted on fourth and inches as a slew of defensive players stopped his forward progress.
Ray threw 22 passes in the game, the most attempts Chatham has seen all season, but only connected on 11 of those.
Ray was also sacked five times in the game. Defensive lineman Nick Ball assisted on two of those and defensive back Jason Pitonyak also helped to make two tackles for losses on Ray.
“Our defensive coaches did an unbelievable job of changing our game plan a little bit… and taking some of our better kids and putting them back as (defensive) backs and disguising coverages. It worked and we shut down a pretty good offense I believe, a very good offense,” Morgenroth said.
With the win, Chatham advances to the next round of the NJSIAA North 2, Group 2 tournament. They will more than likely travel to play Madison High School next Friday at a time to be announced.