CHATHAM, NJ - First Brian Graham rolled his right ankle and had to leave the game for treatment. Then he rolled his left ankle and needed both taped to finish the game.
In between his ankle problems, Graham was healthy enough to set up the winning goal by Miles Michell as the Chatham boys soccer team held off Newark East Side, 1-0, in the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3 semifinal game played Monday at Cougar Field.
No. 2 seed Chatham (14-2-3), ranked No. 9 in the state, will travel to meet top-seeded South Plainfield (16-2-3) on Thursday for the sectional championship. South Plainfield, behind a hat trick from 21-goal scorer Jose Guardado, defeated Summit, 4-0, in its semifinal game Monday.
Graham beat his man down the right wing and hit a rolling cross into the box that Michell ran onto and banged home at the far post from six yards. It was Michell's seventh goal of the season and the team-leading 14th assist credited to Graham.
After Michell's goal, the game rested on the shoulders of Cougar goalie Henry Stusnick, who dominated the penalty area in holding off a talented Newark East Side team, which controlled the ball in the second half.
"Henry had a great game and it's because of him we're through to the next round," Chatham coach Mark Maka said. "To the credit of our team, when someone struggles, someone else steps up. Today we had to rely on Henry. It's great that he stepped up the way he did, but we need a lot more from everybody else."
Henry Stusnick talks about his shutout vs Newark East Side in state sectional semifinal game in video below
Maka was not happy with the way Chatham played and maybe it had something to do with the way East Side controlled the ball. What saved the Cougars was its defense of Will Shi, Harrison Cote, Tristan LeMon, Mike Valenti, Graham Delaney and the goalkeeping of Stusnick.
"We played very poorly today," Maka said. "We didn't play the way we're capable of playing. We're very, very fortunate to get through to the next round. I don't know what it is and we're going to go and figure it out right now. We were playing really well, but in the state tournament we haven't played to the level that we expect of ourselves."
The Newark East Side players fell to the ground after the defeat, but Stusnick wasn't done. He ran to each player and tried to offer his empathy, with "keep your head up."
"I know how it feels to lose a game like that," Stusnick said. "I don't know if it made a difference or not, but I felt like it was the right thing to do. It has to help a little to have someone say something positve."