CHATHAM, NJ - There was a decent chance for Chatham to keep its state football playoff hopes alive with a victory over a winless Mount Olive team on Saturday.
The last ray of hope for that scenario disappeared when Mount Olive scored 29 straight points to upend Chatham, 35-21, on "Senior Day" at Cougar Field.
"We definitely had a chance (to make the playoffs)," Chatham coach Jason Izsa said. "We had to win and then let the planets align in our favor. It came down to us winning and we didn't."
Early on, it looked like Izsa and his team would become astronomers later in the day after the Cougars bolted to a 21-6 lead.
On the first play from scrimmage in the game, Chatham quarterback Timmy Adams threw down field and connected with Chris Francesco for a 49-yard gain. Four plays later, Adams lofted a touch pass to Francesco, who pulled it in and fell into the end zone to complete a 17-yard TD. Adams booted the extra point for a 7-0 lead.
Mount Olive (1-7) cut the deficit to 7-6 before Chatham (2-6) covered 71 yards in seven plays to make it a 13-6 lead with 38.3 seconds left in the first quarter. Adams keyed the march with a 19-yard pass to Christian Cuttita. That set up a swing pass from Adams to Francesca, which the senior receiver caught and sprinted through a hole in the line on the way to a 38-yard score.
Francesco finished the game with nine catches for 139 receiving yards and two TDs. A week ago against Nutley, he made six catches, also for 139 yards, and a touchdown.
In the second quarter, Chatham also picked up its defense, with cornerback P.J. Joel making a big hit for a two-yard loss and Francesco breaking up a pass by Marauder quarterback Liam Anderson. After the Francesco pass break, sophomore Jake Wingate intercepted for the Cougars and returned the pick 19 yards to the Mount Olive 21. On the next play, Adams did his thing, weaving through the Marauder defense before cutting outside for a 21-yard TD.
Chatham went for two points on the conversion and Adams hit Francesco to make it a 21-6 lead with 2:17 left in the half. That would be the last time the Cougars would score in the game. What happened?
"That's what we're trying to figure out, too," Izsa said. "Did we get complacent? Did we think we're going to stay in neutral and just coast in this game? Mount Olive handled adversity well. They've been in the position before and they chipped, chipped, chipped away."
Anderson, who finished the game with two TD runs and two scoring passes, engineered a drive that he capped with a five-yard touchdown run with 39.3 seconds left in the first half, making it a 21-13 game at the break.
Mount Olive, led by Anderson, did all the scoring in the second half.
Chatham plays its final home game of the regular season against Orange, 2 p.m. Saturday.
"It comes back on us, getting these guys ready, coming back on Monday and getting these guys ready for Orange," Izsa said.
COUGAR NOTES: Chatham has been battling through injuries all season and it has taken its toll. Tri-captain Pat Cosgrove, a two-way starter, has been playing with a wrapped right hand. He may have pushed it as far as he could, sitting the second half with a swollen arm..."I think I broke my arm,' Cosgrove said. ... quarterback Adams has been playing through injuries to his throwing hand, and two-way player, junior Max Schelling, played with a fractured wrist for most of the game against Nutley last week and was out there again with the wrist wrapped vs. Mount Olive.
"These guys are warriors," Izsa said. "I give them all the credit in the world for coming out here and playing with their hands bandaged and things like that. I couldn't be more proud."
Chatham QB Timmy Adams weaves his way to a touchdown in the second quarter
Chris Francesco receives a pass from Timmy Adams and sprints to his second TD of the game