Cougars ‘prepare’ to end regular season strong after first two losses of the season


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MONTGOMERY – The 2022 season began in historic fashion for the Montgomery High School football team, rolling out to the program’s first-ever 5-0 start to begin a single season.

Things for Coach Zoran Milich and his Cougars have, however, hit a snag the last two weeks with back-to-back losses to Watchung Hills and North Hunterdon, taking the Cougars out of the running of winning a division title.

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Now, with two games left to play in the regular season, Milich says the Cougars need to turn the page immediately in order to turn things around and get back to being the team they were at the beginning of the season.

“It’s gut check time for us,” said Milich after his team’s 21-14 loss to North Hunterdon on Oct. 7 in Montgomery.

“I have all the faith in the world with this group and that they will turn things around. They’re a hard-working group. We just have to eliminate some of the mistakes we’re making.”

After a fumble recovery led North Hunterdon to taking a 14-6 lead midway through the second quarter, Montgomery fought back to overcome its turnover and tie the game heading into halftime with an eight-play 54-yard touchdown drive that took just under two and half minutes.

Junior quarterback Michael Schmelzer accounted for 53 of the 54 yards on the Montgomery touchdown drive that was capped off by a one-yard touchdown run from senior Gavin Guidette with 23 seconds left to play in the half.

Following Guidette’s touchdown run, Schmelzer connected with senior tight end Elhadji Diara on a two-yard pass for the successful two-point conversion to tie the game at 14-14.

“I thought we’re in a great position going into halftime,” Milich said. “We had momentum, but we didn’t capitalize on it.”

The Montgomery defense built off the momentum coming out of halftime by forcing North Hunterdon to go three and out on its first series and give the ball back to the Cougars’ offense.

Montgomery now had a chance to retake the lead, but the North Hunterdon defense got a stop themselves to force the Cougars to punt the ball away.

The pursuing punt, unfortunately, didn’t go the way Montgomery would have hoped with North Hunterdon’s Alex Uryniak blocking the punt and setting up the Lions with great field position at the Cougars’ 28-yard line.

North Hunterdon took advantage of Uryniak’s block punt, finding the end zone two plays later on a 23-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Luke Martini to wide receiver Derek Vaddis to take a 21-14 lead with 7:28 to play in the third quarter.

“That (block punt) can’t happen,” Milich said. “It set (North Hunterdon) up with a short field and then for a passing touchdown. If we want to be a really good football team, we can’t allow that to happen.”

The Cougars found themselves down a touchdown once again and fought “tooth and nail” the rest of the game for a response to tie the game.

North Hunterdon made sure that wasn’t in the cards, keeping the Cougars out of the end zone the rest of the way for the victory as Montgomery dropped to 5-2 on the season.

Schmelzer finished the game with 210 passing yards to go along with his 38-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. The junior quarterback now has 15 total touchdowns this season for the Cougars.

Junior wide receiver Matthew D’Avino had five catches for 80 yards in the loss to North Hunterdon for Montgomery, while teammate Ethan McManus finished with the contest with a team-high six catches for 77 yards.

Senior linebacker Alex Lemus had a fumble recovery on defense for the Cougars.

Montgomery will look to snap its two-game skid on Oct. 14 when they travel to play Scotch Plains-Fanwood. The Cougars will host Linden to finish out regular season play on Oct. 21.

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