There will be no Naugatuck Valley League title at stake when Naugatuck and Ansonia dig in across the line of scrimmage on Thanksgiving morning.
That may seem unusual for this storied rivalry that will be playing its 114th game since 1900. But the fact of the matter is this: Since 1951, when the NVL first officially crowned a league champion, the Chargers and Greyhounds have only met 13 times to decide the league championship, with Naugatuck holding a slim 7-6 edge in those confrontations.
This year’s NVL championship was decided last week when Ansonia rolled over Woodland. That doesn’t make this Thanksgiving game any less meaningful as both Naugatuck (9-1) and Ansonia (11-0) will have the opportunity to wrap up home games in the state quarterfinals — and if the Greyhounds lose, they may miss the playoffs altogether.
You would have to go back more than a decade to find two more successful coaches than Naugy’s Craig Bruno and Ansonia’s Tom Brockett going head to head in this Thanksgiving matchup. Bruno, the first-year man in the borough, brings in a 103-37-1 career record after spending 12 seasons with Bunnell of Stratford, where he compiled a 94-36-1 ledger with two state championships to show for his efforts.
“Everyone has been talking about this game and I know all about the long history of this rivalry,” Bruno says. “I know what they’re about and I’ve seen them play in the past. I’ve been friends with Coach Brockett for quite a few years.”
Brockett, who took over for the legendary Jack Hunt in 2006, has reeled off a 96-7 record in leading the Chargers to four state titles in eight seasons. Ansonia heads into the fray as winners of 39 games in a row, the second extended streak of its kind during the Brockett era. The Chargers will be looking for a state championship three-peat after winning in 2011 and 2012.
This year’s Thanksgiving game will feature two of the rivalry’s highest scoring offenses in quite some time. Naugatuck averages 42.6 points per game while allowing 16.3, while Ansonia averages 50.7 points while letting up 15.1 per game.
Most of the Chargers’ offense comes through running back Arkeel Newsome, the state’s all-time leading rusher and scorer. He has become the only player in state history to rush for more than 9,000 yards and 150 touchdowns. Still, Bruno doesn’t want his team’s focus to be on the UConn-bound runner.
“What we can’t get into is focusing on Ansonia and Arkeel Newsome,” Bruno says. “We need to focus on what we can do. The better the team, the harder you need to prepare. I’ve been in a lot of big games over the years and it’s a lot more than any one player.”
Naugatuck will bring quite a bit to the table with junior quarterback Jason Bradley, who has set single-season passing marks for the Greyhounds with 2,470 yards and 34 touchdowns. Bradley has also run for 331 yards and a team-leading 10 touchdowns on 80 carries.
Naugy running back Tom Douty has carried the ball 95 times for 802 yards and eight touchdowns. Kevin Robinson (260 yards, five touchdowns) and Nate Franklin (135 yards) add more ground threats.
Ryne Griesenauer is closing in on 1,000 receiving yards with 52 catches for 998 yards and 13 touchdowns. Bryan Coney has hauled in 28 catches for 671 yards and 11 touchdowns. Robinson has 23 catches for 281 yards and a touchdown, and Rick Plasky has pulled down 15 catches for 236 yards and three touchdowns. Franklin and Douty have also latched onto three touchdown grabs each for the ‘Hounds.
“I believe in our guys and I believe in this team,” Bruno says. “We will need to come out and play our best game and make no mistakes. We will control the things we can control and that will be our intensity and that will be at its maximum.”
Ansonia boasts Newsome in the backfield and quarterback Jai’Quan McKnight under center. McKnight is a dual threat with more than 1,000 total yards and 16 touchdowns.
“Ansonia has a lot of good players besides Newsome and McKnight, but we have some pretty good players on our end as well,” Bruno says. “What we need to do is come out and match the intensity level of this game.”
This year’s Thanksgiving game will be the first played on Naugatuck’s new Veterans Field turf, which makes Bruno excited to debut in front of the many fans who come for only the Turkey Day contest.
“I’m real glad my first Thanksgiving game with Ansonia is here on our own turf,” Bruno says. “I wouldn’t say it’s comforting — there is nothing comfortable about facing one of the top teams in the state on a 40-game winning streak.”
Kickoff is scheduled for 10:30 a.m.