CHATHAM — Friday night's season-opening 35-0 victory over Class C South nemesis Watervliet was especially gratifying for Chatham quarterback Kaleb Taylor.
Taylor vividly recalls throwing a pick-six late in his first varsity start as a sophomore back in 2016 that preserved the Cannoneers' 27-13 victory.
Friday, Taylor gained a measure of sweet redemption, throwing a 17-yard touchdown pass and returning an interception 60 yards for another score to help the Panthers' cause. He also contributed six tackles and a sack.
"I'm happy for Kaleb," Chatham coach Rich Sitzer said. "For him to get that interception pick six was something special, and I now it means a lot to KT to make a big play like that."
Taylor was ecstatic to get the victory over a solid Watervliet team.
"This year we came in and did what we had to do," Taylor said. "It wasn't pretty, it wasn't perfect and penalties killed us, but we can clean it up. We've got some good players, we've got some speed."
The Cannoneers have had Chatham's number each of the past two years with last season's 16-14 victory preventing the Panthers from winning the South Division title.
That loss had a profound effect on the team and the coaching staff and the Panthers came out determined to make a statement against the Cannoneers.
"I told the guys that not only did we lose the South Division last year because of Watervliet, the reason we had to go to Holy Trinity in the semifinals was because we lost that game to them and it's those little things that we needed to button up," Sitzer said. "It feels good. It's my first win over Watervliet as head coach, they're a good disciplined team and Brian Hoefer, their coach, is a good guy. I'm happy to take deep breath and enjoy this one before we get ready for Coxsackie-Athens next week."
Along with Taylor, senior Tristan Schermerhorn had a big game for Chatham, rushing for 107 yards on just just seven carries and two touchdowns. He also had an 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and had a 20-yard punt return that set up the Panthers' first score.
"He exploded didn't he?" Taylor said. "He has that in him, he can do that. He's a hell of a ballplayer and I love playing with him, he's a great guy. He works so hard."
Schermerhorn's punt return gave Chatham great field position at the Watervliet 41. After that it took the Panthers just three plays to score their first touchdown of the season, with Schermerhorn doing the honors on a 35-yard run. Pat Knight's point after kick made it 7-0 and the rout was on.
The Panthers scored again on their next possession, this time needing just eight plays to drive 74 yards. Schermerhorn again capped the drive with a touchdown run, this one covering 13 yards. Taylor ran in the two-point conversion to boost Chatham's lead to 15-0.
Watervliet missed a golden opportunity to get back in the game when it drove down to the Chatham two-yard line with 28 seconds remaining in the half, but Kyle Nehmans recovered a Cannoneer fumble to stop the threat.
Sschermerhorn's 80-yard kickoff return effectively put the game out of reach. The Panthers would take on two more scores, the first on Taylor's 17-yard toss to Scheriff.
"I knew he was going to be one on one with their safety, I just didn't know what way Hunter was going to go, inside or outside. He picked the right way, I put the ball out there and he made a beautiful catch."
Chatham's final score also came courtesy of Taylor who stepped in front of a Watervliet receiver to pick off a Tyler Beauregard pass then streaked 60 yards down the sideline to pay dirt.
"It feels so good, so satisfying," Taylor said. "I put a lot of work in with my coaches and they push me to do what I got to do. It felt great."
Watervliet had one more solid chance to score late in the game, but again the Chatham defense rose up to meet the challenge as Hudson transfer Jayshawn Williams picked off a Beauregard throw at the goal line and returned it 30 yards in the closing seconds.
Taylor finished 5 of 6 passing for 74 yards and a TD. Jayshawn Williams had one catch for 43 yards, Sheriff one for 17 and a TD, Schermerhorn one for six, Thomas Van Tassel one for five and Jayson Williams one for five.
Van Tassel added 31 yards rushing on three carries. Scheriff had 20 yards on five carries, Taylor 18 yards on two carries, Jayson Williams 11 yards on two carries, Casey Sitzer seven yards on one carry, Jayshawn Williams four yards on one carry and Quinten Kastner two yards on three carries.
"Our offensive line really buckled down and made some improvements from camp and the scrimmage to give us that advantage up front," Sitzer said. "We felt that we could run between the tackles at will and we threw the ball when we had to. I'm just happy for the kids and that we were able to get off to the right start here."
Taylor feels when clicking on all cylinders the Panthers can play with anybody.
"When our offense totally clicks I think we're going to be a team to be reckoned with in the South Division and throughout the section," Taylor said. "We just have to give it our best every play, each week."
Sean King led the Chatham defense with one solo tackles, five assists, one sack and one deflected pass. Van Tassel had five assists, Scheriff two solos and three assists; Schermerhorn one solo and three assists; Nehmans four assists and one fumble recovery; Shane Croke four assists; Mathew Denson tone solo and three assists; Nate Dyer one solo and two assists; Casey Sitzer one solo and two sacks; Kastner one solo and two assists; Avery Williams two assists; Richie Kratt two assists; Scott Himmel two assists; Grayson Van Wie two assists; Phillip Barlow one solo and one assist; Collin Blank one assist; Michael Moore one assist; Jayshawn William one solo and one interception; Jayson Williams one solo.
Chatham (1-0) plays host to Coxsackie-Athens on Friday night at 7.