Woodland and Seymour will be playing for more than bragging rights when they meet for the 13th Thanksgiving eve battle on the gridiron.
The annual rivalry game will have playoff ramifications as Woodland (7-2) and Seymour (8-1) seek to secure one of eight spots in the Class S playoffs. The Hawks and Wildcats will face off Wednesday at 6 p.m. in Seymour.
The Hawks are the 11th ranked team in the playoff standings, a win over the Wildcats and some help from other teams and Woodland will be in the eight-team field.
Seymour, the sixth ranked team in the standings, just needs a win over the Hawks to secure a playoff berth.
The last time these teams met with this much on the line was in 2007, which was also the last time Woodland head coach Chris Anderson stepped onto DeBarber Field in what has gone down in NVL history as the Fog Bowl.
“That was one heck of a high school football game,” said Anderson, about the game that Seymour won 36-35 in a dense fog that made the players on the field barely visible.
Both teams qualified for the state playoffs that year and a week later Seymour soundly defeated Woodland, 46-28, in the state quarterfinals. Anderson later stepped down to become an assistant coach at the University of New Haven.
This year, Anderson is back at the helm of the program he built and led to a pair of state championships.
The Hawks come in as the underdogs in spite of winning the last six games versus Seymour, including last year’s 41-14 rout.
“This is going to be a great game,” Anderson said. “I hope the fans come out to support us, even though we are the underdogs.”
For Woodland it’s been a tale of two seasons.
The Hawks got off to a shaky 1-2 start, getting outscored 106 to 56 in losses to Torrington and Wolcott.
Since then, Woodland has been on a roll, winning six straight games.
“I credit the kids and our assistant coaches for staying the course after we got blown out two weeks in a row at the start of the season,” Anderson said. “It would have been easy to throw in the towel at that point but these kids believed in the coaches without any evidence of turning this around. The more they believed the better we became and our senior leadership was the key to holding it all together.”
The Hawks have won six in a row behind a defense that has allowing just one touchdown in four of the last six victories. The offense has piled up an average of more than 40 points per game. Woodland’s go-to-guy, senior running back Sean McAllen, already has the career rushing record of 4,740 yards and is tied for career touchdowns at 66.
Seymour comes into the fray full of confidence and with the best quarterback in the NVL. Junior Jaylen Kelley established himself last year throwing for 1,300 yards and 19 touchdowns. This season, Kelley has proven himself to be a dual threat, throwing for 1,716 yards and 20 touchdowns while rushing for 1,088 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Mike Burns (27 catches, 634 yards, 8 touchdowns) and Jake Bleau (24 catches, 636 yards, 3 touchdowns) have been the primary targets for Kelley.
“Number one it starts with their coaching staff,” Anderson said. “Seymour is very well coached and they have the speed and size to go the distance at any time. We are going to have to play our best game of the season to be successful.”
Woodland has a freshman quarterback who has gained a lot of experience this season under center. Zach Bedryczuk has thrown for 587 yards on 26 completions and eight touchdowns. The key will be the protection up front with the offensive line of Semir Dervisi, Dave Bobbie, John Searles, Colin Shea and Cody Doyle leading the way.
McAllen is Woodland’s instant offense with 1,748 yards and 24 touchdowns on the ground and four touchdowns and 290 yards through the air this season.
Ben Nuss (421 yards, 5 touchdowns) and Isaac Negron (231 yards) have also made their presence felt out of the backfield. Jon Scirpo (3 touchdowns) and Guy Massimo provide targets for Bedryczuk.
Coby Vaccarelli leads the defense with four sacks and two interceptions. Massimo has three interceptions and three fumble recoveries with Scott Lawrence, Paul Pronovost and Steve Garofalo playing key roles on defense for the Hawks.
“Our defense is going to need to come to play,” Anderson said. “Our strength is the kids believe in themselves and one another that they can win this football game. And on a game like this, our Thanksgiving eve rivalry, anything can happen.”