The Naugatuck Greyhounds come into the 116th Thanksgiving Day meeting with Ansonia facing its biggest challenge in eight years.
Most fans don’t give Naugatuck (5-4) much of a shot against the undefeated Chargers (9-0), who have won their last 54 NVL games in a row, when the two rivals meet at 10 a.m. Thanksgiving in the borough.
“There is no doubt that this will be our biggest challenge as a team this season,” Naugatuck head coach Craig Bruno said. “The only thing we can do is to come out and give it everything we got.”
Ansonia’s last NVL loss came on Thanksgiving in 2010 when Naugatuck defeated Ansonia, 38-20, to win the league title.
Eight years ago, the ‘Hounds entered Jarvis Field in Ansonia with a paltry 3-7 record and no one gave Naugatuck much of a chance as the pregame talk was a 40- or 50- point loss. The Greyhounds’ defense rose to the occasion that day keeping Naugatuck within striking distance as the undefeated Chargers escaped with a 20-0 win.
The look of disbelief in the eyes of the Ansonia players was evident as they headed to the locker room at the half clinging to a 13-0 lead thanks to a last-minute touchdown. Meanwhile the Greyhounds were whooping it up even surprising themselves that they were still in that ball game. And the longer they stayed in it the tougher they played.
The Greyhounds didn’t win that Turkey Day game but they showed that anything can happen on Thanksgiving. If the defense rises to the occasion, as it has in the past, then anything is possible.
“Our defense has a huge task in front of them,” Bruno admitted “Ansonia has a lot of weapons. We have our work cut out for us trying to contain Tajik Bagley and Tyler Bailey.”
Ansonia is firing on all cylinders. The Chargers have passed every test this season with flying colors. In what many felt was the game of the year versus Torrington, the Chargers took a little less than a quarter to tuck that one in their back pocket, annihilating the Raiders, 54-14.
“I know they talked about the kicking game in Torrington how onside kicks and kick returns were a problem,” Bruno said. “The fact of the matter is that game was over in the first 15 minutes. That is what our defense is facing and we will come out and do our very best to keep us in the game.”
Ansonia faced two very good 6-3 teams in Wolcott and Debry and came with 49-7 and 48-0 wins, respectively. The only team that came close was Seymour (8-1), who was tied 14-14 at the half before the Chargers pulled away to a 35-14 win.
The Greyhounds’ shot at an upset begins at the line of scrimmage where senior captain Logan Bond, a three-year starter, leads a crew of William Chockey, Paul Cavagnoulo, Ben Rossi, Matt Johnson and Jiram Lopez.
Naugatuck will need to take advantage of opportunities on defense with Etty Ilunga, Rondale Stewart and Dan Oladapo trying to win the turnover battle. Ilunga has a 101-yard interception return for a touchdown this season, and that will be the kind of play that could stall the Chargers’ offense.
“Special teams is going to be a factor,” Bruno added. “But it comes down to trying to control a bounce either way. You can practice and prepare all you want for those situations but it comes down to which way the ball bounces and that is a little hard to control. The only thing you can do is be ready for it.”
Ansonia head coach Tom Brockett is 120-9 in the ten years at the helm and the Chargers are going to the state playoffs for the tenth season in a row. Ansonia’s ground game is led by a pair of 1,000-yard runners in Bagley and Bailey. Ansonia quarterback Bryson Cafaro is capable of finding his favorite targets through the air: Joshua Parks and tight end Angel Falero.
If Ansonia has any weakness to exploit it will be at the line of scrimmage where they graduated their entire starting line. Senior center Mike Caple is surrounded by senior guards Keith Zdep and Frank Delibro along with tackles senior Art Delibro and junior Joe DeCiucis.
The Greyhounds will still need to put points on the board, even if the defense stops Ansonia in its tracks. Naugy will look to senior tailback Antoine Sistrunk, who scored 26 touchdowns as a junior and has 16 touchdowns this season, the lead the way.
“The whole key for us on offense is we need to get Sistrunk loose,” Bruno said. “He is a big factor in our offense and we will need to get him going.”
Junior Tyler Deitelbaum is a dual-threat as a runner and receiver with Devan Biancarelli adding to the running game out of the backfield. Sophomore quarterback Mike Plasky has come into his own this season as a leader and a quarterback. Jalen Datil and Ilunga open up the Naugatuck offense allowing the Greyhounds to strike through the air or on the ground.
“There is no question that our quarterback, Mike, is playing with a lot more confidence,” Bruno said. “The greatest teacher is experience and he has excelled this season with the more experience he gets.”