CHATHAM, NJ - The first Chatham High football game of the Covid-19 era went off without a hitch on Saturday. Still, it had to be a little awkward for the players who had four total days of practice wearing shoulder pads before the opener.
Naturally, there were mistakes mixed with better-than-expected performances for Chatham in its 33-13 setback to Morris Hills (2-0) before a supportive face-covered crowd at Cougar Field.
For Cougar head coach Dan Czepiga - whose preseason work included constant warnings to social distance and cover-up at practice - there were no real surprises and a number of positives.
"I can't fault the effort. I'm proud of those guys," Czepiga said. "This would have been our first scrimmage (in terms of practice time) so to compete against a team that's seen two teams already, it's pretty good."
Chatham fans got something to cheer about with quarterback Luke McAloon's swing pass to senior Duncan Torkelson, who broke a tackle and turned it into a 35-yard touchdown play with just under a minute left in the first half (see below). It was Torkelson's first career varsity TD.
Torkelson's TD cut the Chatham deficit to 12-6, but just 13 seconds later, Josh Babe of Morris Hills broke outside and hugged the line for a 75-yard TD sprint.
Chatham argued that Babe stepped out on his way to the end zone, but since there is no video replay this year, that claim was moot. Charlie Rex followed with a two-point conversion run to give the Scarlet Knights a 20-6 lead at the half.
Basically, the Chatham defense was more than capable and the offense showed signs of potential.
"I liked the defensive game plan," Czepiga said. "I thought we did well defensively, but ultimately you have to score points. We had things there (on offense). We just have to execute better. We need to clean some things up. We moved the ball. We just didn't score."
The Cougars started the game by playing a number of seniors both ways, such as linemen Lucas Reasons and Will Duff. But when the coach reached into his depth chart, he was pleasantly surprised by the running ability of sophomore Peter Boyd, who slashed his way to a 28-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter (see below).
"Listen, it's one of those things that we started with some of the seniors out there but they were going both ways," Czepiga said. "(Boyd)'s third on the depth chart and we put him out there and he performed. I was very happy to see a sophomore execute like that, especially at running back.
"He's a very shifty runner and I was very surprised that he was able to be patient and hit holes when they were available. Sometimes you just need a guy who can get the four or five yards every carry. We'll look at the film, we'll evaluate it."
Boyd got his first carry in the second quarter and wound up with 61 yards on 11 attempts (see one of his runs below).
"Offensively speaking, we had some opportunities," Czepiga said. "We talk about things like don't look back when you're running down the sideline to see if the guy is catching you. If you just keep running, you're going to run faster. We need to work on making sure the QB knows where he's supposed to be looking, the right blocking assignments. Across the board, any game you play there are things you can look to improve on. For us, it's just cleaning up the plays that we're working on.
"These are things we can work on, but this was like our scrimmage game. Unfortunately, it counts as a real game. We've got a quick turnaround (at Mendham Friday night). Everybody is excited to play Friday night for sure."
Some of the other highlights included McAloon's pass to senior Chase Carlin for a 48-yard gain to the Morris Hills eight-yard line (see below).
McAloon also connected with senior wideout Andrew Romaine-Martin for a 36-yard advance on the first play of the second quarter.
COUGAR NOTES: Junior defensive end Luke Ehler blocked the extra point after Morris Hills scored in the first quarter.... senior Sean McArthur recovered an onside kick and also recovered a fumble for Chatham ... Sam Smith's first punt of the season wound up covering 57 yards and was downed at the Morris Hills one-yard line by Romaine-Martin ... the loss was coach Czepiga's 10th straight at Cougar Field ... sophomore backup quarterback Giovanni Del Re broke a 53-yard touchdown run the first time he touched the ball in a varsity game, but a flag on the play called it back. Del Re did complete a pass and run for a first down in the drive that ended with Boyd's TD burst ... Chatham plays at Mendham (0-2) 7 p.m. Friday. The Minutemen lost to Parsippany Hills, 21-0, on Oct. 2 and bowed to Montville, 38-0, on Friday ... Chatham's 2019 season ended with a 23-16 loss in an NJSIAA Regional Crossover game at Mendham on Nov. 6. In that game, current Cougar junior Owen Walewander made 5 catches for 124 yards and a TD. Current senior linebacker Jack Kuppenheimer was credited with 15 tackles in the same game.