Making plays

Ilunga steps up as Greyhounds’ playmaker

Naugatuck’s Etty Ilunga (2) breaks away for a touchdown versus Watertown Oct. 29. The senior receiver and defensive back has stepped forward as a playmaker for the Greyhounds. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

Naugatuck’s Etty Ilunga (2) breaks away for a touchdown versus Watertown Oct. 29. The senior receiver and defensive back has stepped forward as a playmaker for the Greyhounds. –ELIO GUGLIOTTI

The name Etty Ilunga has become synonymous with playmaker on the Greyhounds’ sideline.

On plenty of occasions the senior receiver and defensive back has produced crucial plays for Naugatuck when his team needed him most.

Naugatuck was down 10 points at the start of the second half of a nail-biter against Derby Oct. 8. As the Red Raiders made their way deep into Greyhounds territory, the pressure began to rise against the Garnett and Grey.

It was at that moment that Ilunga sprang into action, intercepting a pass and high tailing down the sideline for a 101-yard pick-six. On the Greyhounds’ next possession, Ilunga hauled in a 76-yard touchdown pass to tie the game.

Although the ‘Hounds were defeated in the final moments of the night, Ilunga made everyone take notice.

“Etty, in my entire career of coaching is one of the most improved players I’ve ever coached,” head coach Craig Bruno says. “From the time he was a sophomore ‘til now, for him to become one of the top players in the conference has been phenomenal.”

Bruno says Ilunga’s character has helped him dramatically in his development and ability to produce much-needed plays for Naugatuck.

The senior welcomes the pressure and looks to thrive in those situations.

“Whenever the team needs me I’m not going to wait for anyone else to step up and make the play. I’m going to step up and make the play,” Ilunga says. “It just so happens that coach calls my number. When he calls my number I know that I’m ready and have to step up for my team.”

While the Greyhounds have utilized a run-heavy game plan this season, the 6-foot-1 receiver has proven to be a useful target through the air. Ilunga has shown the ability to out hustle and outrun almost any defender and gain positive yards after a catch.

On senior night Oct. 29 versus Watertown, Ilunga caught a screen pass from quarterback Mike Plasky. After dodging the first defender, the senior playmaker showed off his wheels, outsprinting several Indians for a 40-yard touchdown that shifted the momentum in the Greyhounds favor.

As the season draws to an end, Ilunga will be taking the field one final time as the ‘Hounds face off against Ansonia on Thanksgiving. While Naugatuck will have their work cut out for them against the undefeated Chargers, the Greyhounds don’t go into the game emptyhanded with weapons like Ilunga.

“He’s a hard worker. He’s a big leader on the team, obviously being a captain, and he hustles every play,” Plasky says. “He gives it 110 percent and with someone with his size and athleticism, it’s a good target to have on offense.”

Editor’s note: This article appears in the Citizen’s News’ special Thanksgiving football section published the week of Nov. 27, 2015.