The 113th meeting between Naugatuck and Ansonia will not decide a Naugatuck Valley League title. It won’t secure a state playoff spot. But that won’t take anything away from the game that 25-year Naugy assistant coach Chuck Rek calls “our Super Bowl.”
The Chargers are 10-0 and on 24-game winning streak. Ansonia, the defending NVL and Class M state champion, has already sewn up a home quarterfinal in this year’s Class S playoffs.
Naugatuck comes in with a 6-3 record and there is no better way to end a season than to defeat Ansonia on Thanksgiving Day. It has only happened three times since 1987 with the most recent victory coming in 2010, under former head coach Rob Plasky. The win secured the Greyhounds a league title.
Naugy is a whole lot better than advertised, even with the disruption right before the season. The Greyhounds manned up and came together, rallying around one another and putting up the school’s most points (406) in more than 10 years.
“It’s a credit to these kids and the dedication of this coaching staff,” said Naugatuck interim coach Shawn Kuczenski, who was the defensive coordinator in 2010 when the Naugy defense shut down a high-powered Chargers offense to win the NVL title. “We certainly had our obstacles to overcome. But we are literally just two plays away from playing Ansonia for an NVL title.”
A 21-20 loss at Derby in Week 2 and a 27-21 defeat against Holy Cross in Week 6 are two of the three blemishes on the Greyhounds’ schedule.
“We scored the go-ahead touchdown in the final minutes against Derby and Holy Cross only to have them called back on penalties,” Kuczenski said. “We could very well be heading into this game at 8-1. But what we accomplished with such a young group of kids shows you the hard work that they put into this season.”
That youth begins on the line of scrimmage where sophomores Jack Reardon, Will Paul and Patrick Murphy have stepped up alongside junior Mark Cavagnuolo and senior Devon Watkins.
The biggest surprise may be in the pocket where sophomore quarterback Jason Bradley has emerged along with a few other young sophomore quarterbacks in the league to keep Naugy up with a scoring binge like it hasn’t seen in years.
Bradley has completed 64 percent of his passes for 1,348 yards and 25 touchdowns. Five times he has broken the 150-yard mark in a game and twice he’s thrown for more than 200 yards.
“The thing about Jason Bradley is that he makes good decisions when he’s in the pocket,” Kuczenski said. “He has thrown only seven interceptions and has good reliable targets to throw to.”
It doesn’t hurt to have sure-handed targets such as senior Brandon Kuczenski (19 catches, 331 yards, nine TD), senior Mike D’Agnone (10 catches, 150 yards, four TD) and junior Ryan Griesenauer (five catches, 132 yards, four TD).
But what makes this offense click is elusive senior tailback — and occasional slot receiver — Mick Pernell, who now holds the Naugatuck single-season touchdown mark with 29 scores. Pernell has 907 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground, 651 yards and 10 touchdowns through the air, two touchdowns on returns and a defensive score.
“Mick Pernell brings it every day,” Shawn Kuczenski said. “He has really come on this year with the added work in the offseason in the weight room.”
Jerome Love is another senior who has been a positive influence after transferring from Kennedy. Love has 454 yards rushing with six scores and has been a steady contributor in the linebacker corps.
“Jerome is the perfect complement in our running game,” Kuczenski said. “He is a bulldozer, head-down, punishing runner. Having both Mick and Jerome running the ball really opens up our passing game.”
The Greyhounds’ offense has topped 50 points four times, 48 points once and a whopping 70 points once, averaging 45 points per game.
The Naugy defense has also stepped up, allowing 198 points on the season. Senior Matt Carda is a leader on the front line with five sacks on the season and Ronald Parker has added two sacks.
Love leads the defensive backfield along with D’Agnone, who had two interception-return touchdowns in the same game against St. Paul. Junior Nate Franklin and sophomores Bryan Coney, Maleek Brooks and Kevin Robinson have made an impact as six times the defense has allowed 21 points or fewer this season.
These Greyhounds have already surpassed the offense put up by the 2010 NVL championship squad, who put 388 points on the board. The 70-point mark against St. Paul was the highest since Naugatuck defeated Ansonia 73-0 in 1928. (That team also registered an incredible 94-0 win over Southington.)
Ansonia is no stranger to the end zone, either. The Chargers have put up 438 points — a little behind last year’s team that scored a staggering 624 points on its way to NVL and state titles.
The Chargers are led by Arkeel Newsome, a MaxPreps Sophomore All-American a year ago who set state records in yards and touchdowns. This year the junior running back comes into the Thanksgiving Day game with 1,272 yards and 17 touchdowns.
But Ansonia is not a one-dimensional team. Sophomore quarterback Jai’Quan McKnight has thrown for 771 yards and 17 touchdowns while senior Andrew Matos has hauled in 25 passes for 607 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Chargers have scored more than 60 points twice and more than 40 points six times. So the Ansonia maintenance crew better make sure they have new light bulbs in the scoreboard as this will not be a low-scoring game by any stretch.
“We are certainly going down there to give Ansonia a game,” Kuczenski said. “We have a lot of positives going and we are hoping that Brian McGrath (concussion) and Kevin Mariano (injured) could make it back. But this would really be a good way to end the season with a win at Ansonia.”