NUTLEY, NJ - The tradition at Nutley home football games is to fire a cannon whenever the Raiders score.
The Chatham football team heard enough cannon fire on Saturday to mortally wound its Group 3 state playoff chances in absorbing a 17-14 defeat.
"It stings. It hurts bad," Chatham coach Jason Izsa said. "This was our opportunity to be either in, secure a spot or be a game away from securing a spot. We could have been 3-4 with an opportunity to be 4-4 next week and likely in. If we won, we could have lost next week (home Saturday vs. Mount Olive) and still had an opportunity. Now it's almost like a must-win and we need to get help from other teams to maybe get enough power point to get in at 7 or 8."
Cougar quarterback Timmy Adams had his best passing game of the season, completing 11 of 23 attempts for 229 yards and two touchdowns, with senior receiver Chris Francesco grabbing six of the passes for 139 yards and a TD.
But as well as Chatham (2-5) passed in the game, it couldn't surpass the yardage covered by running of Nick Mainiero, who finished with 278 yards on 32 carries and scored two TDs for Nutley (2-5).
It all came down to the fourth quarter when Hunter Lechthaler kicked a 34-yard field goal that staked Nutley to a 17-7 lead with 11:14 to play.
On the ensuing kickoff, Max Schelling made a 37-yard return to give the Cougars good field position at its own 47. Chatham began an 11-play drive that was kept alive when Francesco took a pitch from Adams and completed a 9-yard option pass to Schelling on fourth down. Three plays later, Adams rifled a 20-yard pass to Schelling for the touchdown. Adams added the placement to make it a 17-14 game with 6:30 to go.
But Adams and the Chatham offense never got on the field again as Nutley converted a big third-down play and then got a first down from Mainiero on fourth down to ruyn out the clock.
"The game was in our hands and we let it slip away," Adams said. "We had the opportunities, but we didn't put up enough points in the first half. We just have to forget about it. All we can do is go out and win the next game."
Nutley had taken the opening kickoff and scored on a 1-yard burst by Mainiero to take an early 7-0 lead. But Chatham came out aggressively with its passing game. On the Cougars' first play from scrimmage offensive coordinator Steve Trivino called a play in which Schelling lined up at quarterback and took the shotgun snap. He then pitched the ball to Adams, who threw down field to hit Francesco on the run for a 46-yard gain.
Three plays later, Adams threw to Francesco, who turned the corner and made a dive into the end zone for the score and a 7-7 tie with 5:04 left in the first.
In the third quarter, Chatham punted the ball away on its first series and an Adams punt pinned the Raiders on their own 12-yard line. But on the first play, Mainiero cut around right end and bolted for an 88-yard touchdown run.
"That was it," Izsa said. "The momentum was going our way. If we stopped them and got the ball back, that would have shifted the momentum our way. He's a special back and he made the play when he needed to."
Timmy Adams hits Chris Francesco over the middle for a 37-yard gain in the second quarter
Max Schelling pulls in a 20-yard touchdown pass from Timmy Adams with 6:30 left in the fourth quarter for Chatham
Chris Francesco turns this pass from Timmy Adams into a 16-yard touchdown in the first quarter for Chatham