CHATHAM, NJ - It isn't often that a made field goal called back by a penalty can be marked as the turning point in a game. It was on Saturday.
Chatham's "personal foul" penalty on Montville's 42-yard field goal took away the three points in the third quarter, but gave the Mustangs a first down at the Chatham 13. Two plays later, Montville scored to tie the game, sparking its 17-7 comeback win at Cougar Field.
"Those mistakes are going to kill us," Chatham coach Dan Czepiga said. "Anytime you get a team on fourth-and-long and they're kicking a field goal, that was a win for the defense there. We made that penalty and it took the wind out of our sails a little bit and then they converted it into a touchdown. It's things like that that we need to clean up.
"The center is supposed to be not touched and our guy pushed the center. Even if it's15 yards there, it doesn't give them the first down. The personal foul makes it an automatic first down."
With the ball at the 13, senior tackle Will Duff gave Chatham's defense a brief reprieve with a sack for a seven-yard Montville loss (see video below). But on the next play, Mustang quarterback Blaine Franc hit Michael Fardo with a 20-yard TD strike. Franc followed by kicking the extra point to make it 7-7 wth 5:47 left in the third period.
After Montville (2-2) tied it up, Chatham (0-3) went three-and-out and the Mustangs covered 46 yards to take the lead with just 27 seconds showing on the clock when Franc carried in from the one.
It was a tough matchup for Chatham's sophomore quarterback Giovanni Del Re, making his first start. He was opposite the multi-talented Franc, who threw for 95 yards and a TD, rushed for 124 and a score while also handling the punting and placekicking duties.
"There are some things that are there that he just needs to clean up a little bit," Czeiga said of Del Re. "Some of the reads he's not making quick enough but with practice that will come, hopefully."
So far, Del Re has a favorite receiver in junior receiver Owen Walewander, who made something positive happen every time the ball was thrown his way.
Chatham opened the second half with a 66-yard march engineered by Del Re and culminated with a rollout pass to Walewander for a 33-yard touchdown play, the first of his career (see below).
"Owen Walewander is a phenomenal player," Czepiga said. "He did well. He just has to keep coming. We have to get him the ball. He made some great catches there and on defense he played well."
The 6-0, 200-pound Walewander not only gave Del Re a big target, he also showed surprising agility and concentration in the air, tipping one pass up in the air and coming down with it (see below).
On another pass from Del Re that was tipped by a Montville defender, Walewander, who wasn't the intended receiver, was alert enough to dive and catch the ball for an 18-yard gain (see below).
Walewander, who doubles as a linebacker, also stood out on the defensive side of the ball, shooting the gap to tackle the runner for a loss in the video below.
Del Re had his expected ups and downs in the game, but the entire Chatham offense needs to be sharper so that the overtaxed defense can get a breather.
"We have to make sure we give the defense a break," Czepiga said. "The defense played well. They get off the field and then there's a penalty. There was another penalty that gave them a first down as well, so those things we have to clean up and each week.
"You could tell (Del Re) was nervous. When you're getting your first start, there are going to be butterflies. He was doing well. During the game, it always looks bad then you watch the film and you see where you should have gone. The little things. On the first play of the second half, our TE blocked the wrong guy. If he blocks the right guy, Gio is running for 30-40 yards. Unfortunately, if you make the wrong block, it blows the whole play up. If we learn to block the right players, it won't be a touchdown every time, but it will be a positive play."
COUGAR NOTES: Senior Luke McAloon intercepted a pass in the end zone for Chatham on the final play of the first half, preserving a scoreless tie ... senior tackle Will Duff two sacks in the third quarter ... QB Del Re completed 12 of 18 pass attempts for 160 yards, including a TD and an interception. Walewander made nine catches for 91 yards and a TD ... senior Sam Smith launched a 54-yard punt in the third quarter for Chatham ... senior linebacker Sean Pellegrin made a touchdown-saving tackle in the second half ... Chatham head coach Dan Czepiga is now 0-11 at home in his third season as the Cougar coach. "I don't think it's a jinx, we just have to play better collectively," he said. "I hate to use the process as a phrase here. It takes time to build a program. Each week we're building toward that success and hopefully the wins come." ... Chatham plays on the road at Newton (2-0) on Friday. Newton rallied to defeat Lenape Valley, 10-7, on Friday and won its opener over High Point, 35-6 ... Chatham last played Newton in 2017, absorbing a 42-6 loss. Newton was in the midst of a 12-0 season that year while Chatham finished 1-9.