WESTFIELD, NJ – When it comes to boys' lacrosse in New Jersey, you can throw all the rankings and expectations out of the window because as many coaches of these quality programs will tell you; any team can defeat another team on a given day if they stick to their game plan and control possession.
That is exactly what the 14th ranked Westfield Blue Devils (6-1) were able to do against the Chatham Cougars (7-2) as they battled back from a one-goal deficit in the second quarter and held as much as a three-goal lead in the second half en route to a 9-8 win over the third ranked team in the Star Ledger Top Twenty on Wednesday afternoon at Gary Kehler Stadium in Westfield.
“It’s really great. It’s been a while since we beat someone in the top five. We finally broke that today. It’s just really exciting,” said Westfield attack man Paul DeVita, who led his team with three goals.
“I’ve always considered us on the same level as Chatham," said Westfield Head Coach Marc Silbergeld. "We’ve battled each other for years. It was down to the last possession and that’s what you hope it comes down to."
That last possession that Silbergeld was referring to was not a Westfield goal, but the offense controlling the ball for the last 20 seconds or so after goaltender Alex McHugh made a huge save on Chatham’s David Gill’s shot from the slot to preserve his team’s one goal lead.
McHugh, who played the second half while Garret Williamson started the game and played throughout the first half, made five saves for his team in the fourth quarter to preserve the Westfield lead.
Westfield earned their lead with some hard offensive work in the third quarter after the score was knotted at four apiece at halftime.
They scored two goals in a 40 second span in the beginning of the quarter when midfielder Ryan Bohrod hit from the slot and Jackson O’Leary connected from in front of the Chatham goal off a nice feed from DeVita.
After Chatham scored the next two of three goals to bring the contest to within one at the 8:29 mark of the third, McHugh made a nice to stop to rob Chatham’s Matt Proto in front before clearing the ball to a teammate upfield.
That led to another Westfield goal as Bohrod connected for his second of the game when he lasered in a shot from the left slot. After a Chatham turnover, Devita fed a nice pass to teammate Jackson O’Leary in the center slot that he buried with just two seconds remaining in the third quarter to give Westfield a 9-6 edge.
“Our game plan was to possess. That’s also good defense. If it’s not on their sticks, they can’t score,” Silbergeld commented. “We felt that we matched up against them man to man fairly well. We just wanted to run our stuff and do our thing and try to focus on doing what we do."
For Chatham, they won the two facets of the game that usually lead to wins against tough opponents; ground balls and face-offs. They collected 24 balls on the ground compared to Westfield’s 21 and won 12 of 19 draws.
They certainly put together a valiant effort in the fourth quarter of play, but did not have quite enough offensive power to break through McHugh and the rest of the Westfield defense for the tying goal.
Things did look up for the Morris County team when Corey Heidaran, who led Chatham with three goals, put in a shot from the left slot to draw the margin to within two with 8:46 left in the game.
After some back and forth play that did not result in any goals from either team, Chatham took advantage of a Westfield turnover and Heideran buried another chance from the slot as the home team led only by one at 9-8 with 2:53 remaining.
With just over two minutes to go, Thomas Guida attempted to make a pass to teammate Joe Ritter in front of the Westfield goal, but it appeared as if Ritter was not expecting the ball as it sailed past him and out of bounds.
Chatham got called for a goaltender interference penalty with time winding down and did not have a chance at another offensive opportunity before the final whistle blew.
“I thought we went through the motions. We were lucky to be in the game, to be honest with you. We need to be mentally and physically prepared to play. We did very uncharacteristic things and we got beat. They outplayed us,” Chatham Head Coach Anthony Calandra told The Alternative Press after the game.
The first half was tightly played as both teams combined for two lead changes and four ties.
Westfield got on the board first when Patrick Dyer scored less than three minutes in, only to be matched by a goal from Chatham’s David Gill.
DeVita scored his first of the game with 3:24 left in the first and Westfield took a 2-1 advantage heading into the second quarter of play.
Kyle Howard-Johnson scored two goals in a row for Chatham less than a minute apart in the second period when they enjoyed their first lead of the game with 10:33 left until halftime.
DeVita put in a goal a few minutes later followed by Chatham’s Sam Carson’s score as they earned their second lead of the affair.
DeVita rounded out the scoring in the first half when he put the ball into the back of the cage with 1:26 to go until halftime.
Westfield will look to carry the momentum from their win when they play at West Essex High School this Saturday at 11 a.m.
Chatham looks to bounce back when they travel to West Orange to play Seton Hall Prep, also this Saturday at 11 a.m.