MORRISTOWN, NJ - When the Chatham boys soccer team got off the bus at Ryan Family Field to play Delbarton on Thursday, one starter had his arm in a sling and two others were limping with foot fractures.
It would have been understandable if the Cougars were overwhelmed by undefeated Delbarton, ranked No. 1 in the state by NJ.com.
But Chatham more than held its own in suffering its first loss of the season, 2-0, as the Green Wave scored their second goal with 46 seconds left to make the score look bigger than it was.
"Give these guys credit," Chatham coach Mark Maka said. "They're down now. The important thing is that they just stay with it and don't let this deflate what we've created already because they've done some really good things so far. I thought we played fantastic in the first half.
"In the first half, at times I thought we were the better team. In the second half maybe we gassed a little bit. You can see the three starters (Nick DiMaggio, Ian Kagan, and Nick Kaisand) on the sideline, as soon as we can get them back the better we'll be."
Chatham (5-1) had a chance to take the lead in the 34th minute when senior striker Aedan Joel controlled the ball and cut it back into the center of the box, where Jameson Shi ran onto the ball for a first-time shot that was punched away by Delbarton goalie Kyle Swift (see the video below).
Senior goalie Julian de Keyzer was on his game in the first half, coming off his line to thwart a Delbarton chance in the fifth minute and making a big save on a blasted shot at the near post in the 37th minute.
Delbarton (5-0), however, snapped de Keyzer's streak of three straight shutouts with goals by Ryan Ruffo and Ivan Scotto in the second half.
With the score, 1-0, de Keyzer came out clear a ball in the box. He got the ball and then the Delbarton player, resulting in a yellow card and a trip to the bench when the penalty kick was whistled.
That put Chatham junior goalie Aidan Babovic on the spot. Babovic came in cold to face the penalty kick, which also happened to be his very first varsity action. Babovic dove to his left and punched the shot way, giving the Cougars a huge lift by keeping it a one-goal game.
"At first I was really nervous," Babovic said. "I was going into a very intense game not knowing what was going to happen. Before I went in Julian (de Keyzer) told me to go with my gut and you'll be fine and that's what I did. It was a great feeling to make that save."
Babovic didn't provide the only uplifting moment for Chatham, which received a sparkling performance from sophomore Remi Ufheil, who stepped into the center of the defense. Ufheil made his first varsity start in place of the injured Kagan.
"I thought Remi had a very strong match," Maka said. "Obviously, as a sophomore to play against Delbarton on their field in his first varsity start, it's a big occasion for him. I thought he stepped up to the challenge and played really well.
"We have 25 guys who can play and we trust everyone. Remi is a good example of that. The way he stepped up is a good sign for a sophomore."
Sophomore Cole Bixby already was a starter at left back for Chatham and he was joined in the starting 11 by Ufheil and midfielder Miles Robertson. Another sophomore, Luke Haley, played significant minutes in the midfield off the bench.
Aedan Joel's shot in the second half for Chatham was saved by the keeper