by Andrew Garda

Fans who stopped by Van Brunt field on Saturday for the boys lacrosse game between the Montclair Kimberley Academy Cougars and Montclair High School Mounties were treated to an intense game, which the Mounties sneaked away with to the tune of 9-7.

In truth, this had all the earmarks of a great game before the teams even faced off.

A pair of crosstown rivals, both looking for their first victory of the season, both rebuilding and trying to find the balance for their young teams while trying to fix flaws that had cost them a combined five games to start the regular season.

When the Mounties and Cougars stepped onto the field at MKA, both teams felt that this game was one they could win and that kept the game close for most of the game.

Early on, though, it did look like the Cougars might run away with the game.

The Mounties were their own worst enemy while on attack, and two turnovers became Cougar fast breaks and contributed to a 4-1 lead early in the second quarter. As had been the case so far during this young season, the Mountie defense was on its heels. MKA junior Ryan Dancy scored a pair of goals while senior Jared Levine and sophomore Dylan Hall added one each as well.

When things are going sideways, teams look to their leadership to change the momentum, though. For the Mounties, this time out it was senior Matt Comini.

Down 4-1, Comini, who would eventually score a total of four goals on the day, bulled his way from behind the goal and bounced a shot past Cougar goalie Alex Melitz.

The Mounties struck twice more in the second quarter, and entered halftime down just 4-3, with momentum seemingly on their side.

For head coach Doug Scanlan, it wasn’t just about Comini though, but all three of his captains.

“It’s hard to talk about just Matt [Comini] because I kind of think of them as one unit. Matt is the beating heart of the captain-hood, Will [Obaditch] is the strong backbone and brain while Jamond [Randolph] is everything else. All of them bring, what they need to bring, when they need to bring it.”

Scanlan didn’t want to take away from what he termed a “great day” for Comini, but without his other two captains as well, the day might have been lost.

For defensive coordinator Drew Jenkins, there was another huge factor in the game in the form of goalie Ashton Smith, who has been standing on his head stopping shots during the first few games of the year.

“In my mind I think we have an all-state goalie on our hands,” Jenkins said. Smith made some tremendous saves throughout the course of the game, and has really stepped up this season. The staff wasn’t sure what they had at goalie when they started, but Jenkins said Smith is only getting better.

The Mounties took the lead in the third quarter with four goals to MKA’s two. The MHS attack calmed down, worked the ball around the edges of the zone, and picked their shots more carefully.

While the offense began to find cracks in the Cougars’ armor, the Mountie defense found ways to slow the MKA attack down, especially Dancy. Gone were the fast breaks that had hurt them in the first half, and when MKA was forced to move the ball around in the MHS defensive zone, they were the ones turning the ball over.

“We’re making less physical mistakes than we were ... but we’re still making mental mistakes and I feel that’s more critical at this point,” Cougars head coach Paul Edwards said after the game.

Edwards said that he feels his team gets in its own way too often.

“We’re playing with the teams we’re playing but we’re breaking down mentally in key situations and it seems to shoot us in the foot every time we do it. [Mistakes] seem to come at the most inopportune times.”

That was definitely the case on Saturday. While early on, the Cougars were able to gash the Mountie defense on fast breaks, once MHS slowed MKA down, the Cougars looked less comfortable and made more mistakes.

The Cougars would not quit, though. Even with sharper play, the Mounties had several poor passes and bad penalties, which allowed the Cougars to creep to within a pair of goals with just under a minute to play.

MHS’ defense stiffened up, though, and Smith made several nice saves to keep the lead. Then the Mounties simply worked on eating the clock up, and the Cougars ran out of time.

Now both teams have to leave Saturday behind and move to the next game. For the Cougars, their lone game on the week is against a tough St. Augustine team. For Edwards, that means the team needs a short memory.

“In my mind we aren’t 0-4, we’re 0-0 and moving on to play St. Augustine. Then we’ll either be 1-0 or 0-1 and we’ll keep moving on.”

The Mounties, meanwhile, have seven games in 13 days, which means Scanlan and company can’t rest on this win. Scanlan says that’s fine — they can sit back and rest in June.

For now, he’s seeing the possibilities the team has for him.

“When your number one opponent is no longer yourself, that’s when the possibilities become reality. If we can stop making the little mistakes we make each game, watch out. This team can really make something happen.”

There’s still work to do, as evidenced by a 12-4 loss to Caldwell Tuesday afternoon. Now the team has to quickly reset for a night game at Ramapo on Thursday.