Balanced attack paves the way to title

Former Naugatuck head football coach Craig Peters talks with John Lynn (82) during the state title game in 1981. The Greyhounds beat Xavier, 28-6, in the game to win their first state title. -NAUGATUCK HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL ALUMNI ASSOCIATION

Former Naugatuck head football coach Craig Peters talks with John Lynn (82) during the state title game in 1981. The Greyhounds beat Xavier, 28-6, in the game to win their first state title. -NAUGATUCK HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL ALUMNI ASSOCIATION

This fall will mark athletic anniversaries for Naugatuck High School and Woodland Regional High School. The Citizen’s News started its look back on three of those moments last week with the 2001 Naugatuck boys soccer state championship. This week, the Citizen’s News will look back on the Naugatuck football team winning its first state title in 1981. This fall is the 35th anniversary of the title run.

There is little doubt that senior captain Kevin Moreland, the quarterback of the 1981 Greyhounds, was a playmaker, and senior captain Darryl White, the team’s fullback, could run through a wall if need be.

Naugatuck had all the offensive tools in the shed, including running back Ted Douty, wide receivers Joe Pascale, Rick Ruest and Gordon Gregg, and tight end Steve Croce. But defense wins championships, and the 1981 Naugatuck High School football team had a defense that was second to none and didn’t allow an offensive touchdown until the eighth game of the season.

Head coach Craig Peters, who was then in his ninth of 28 illustrious years coaching the Greyhounds, had all the X’s and O’s in place. With assistant coaches Bob Harrison and Bob Aquavia by his side, Peters guided the Greyhounds to an 11-0 record, their first state championship, the No. 1 ranking in the state and New England, and the No. 4 ranking in the Northeast.

Quite an accomplishment for a team that really had no superstars, just hard-nosed football players who believed in each other and their coaching staff.

“We were a very disciplined, well-coached team,” White said. “Coach Craig Peters and assistant coaches Bob Harrison and Bob Aquavia were exceptional coaches and not only taught us to control the ball and you will control the game, they taught us how to play football.”

In order to play for a state championship, the Greyhounds had to get past Ansonia, something Peters had yet to do as head coach. Naugatuck upended Ansonia, 24-20, on Thanksgiving with a defense that came up with seven turnovers, including three interceptions from Jim Einik.

“We ran a ball control offense and we rallied around an opportunistic defense,” Croce said. “This group of guys was the epitome of a team. We were all friends and all hung out together. There were no superstars, just everyone doing their job.”

Naugatuck played undefeated Xavier for the state championship. It was a knock-them-down-drag-them-out affair until Johnny Lynn came crashing in around the Falcons quarterback at the Naugy 15-yard line late in the first half.

Ed Santiago knocked down a pass in the end zone and the defense held. Two minutes later, Ted Douty barreled in from 3 yards out to give the Hounds a 7-0 lead with just 45 seconds left in the half.

With 4:13 left in the third quarter, Jim Hickey threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Dave Dunn to close the gap at 7-6. After the ensuing kickoff, Douty broke one for 48 yards to set up a first-and-goal. Moreland got it into the end zone for a 14-6 lead heading to the final quarter.

This one appeared to be going down to the wire until the Naugatuck defense showed up in force. Four times Xavier tried to mount an offensive attack and four times the ‘Hounds came away with interceptions.

Bob Oris returned one of those interceptions 20 yards for a score to open a 21-6 advantage. Croce and Einik latched onto interceptions, and Jack Prior ended all hope for the Falcons intercepting a Hail Mary pass late in the game.

Douty scored the final touchdown on a 23-yard blast behind the line of Scott Skidmore, Rick Van Duyne, Scott Langilous, Oris and Ted Sanford.

“That was certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Dave Mariano, a junior defender on the team. “This was a close-knit team that was built on defense. We had some great offensive players but the defense didn’t give up an offensive touchdown until the eighth game of the season.

“I referee games now and you just don’t see teams playing that kind of dominating defense. Teams give up the amount of points in a game that we gave up the entire season. But it all goes back to our coaches. We wouldn’t have been there without them.”

Moreland was the quarterback and the playmaker that year. Whenever the ‘Hounds needed a big play Moreland turned on the speed and made it happen. He passed for eight touchdowns and 1,100 yards and ran for six more touchdowns. He also kicked three field goals and 31 extra points and his way to being named the NVL MVP.

Naugy had a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense led by White, who had eight touchdowns and a 6.2 yards per carry average, and Douty, who had 692 yards and nine touchdowns.

When it came time to shut down the opponent guys like Prior, Lynn, Sanford, Rick Becchetti and Mariano made the stops and got the ball back for the offense.

“We were a very balanced football team,” White said. “And we just had that mindset. We never gave up, never got down on ourselves and everyone just went out and did their job.”

The Greyhounds would go on to defeat Ansonia again in 1982 — one of four wins over the Chargers in a six-year span — but didn’t win another state title until 1993, their last to date.