For the first time in five years, Seymour might have the squad to beat Woodland.
The Wildcats (6-4), who have already clinched their first winning record since 2008, will enter DeBarber Field on Friday morning as winners of three of their last four. The one loss in that four-game stretch came to Ansonia in a game Seymour had chance after chance to win, including a missed field goal in the waning minutes.
The game, which was originally scheduled for Thanksgiving eve, was postponed to 10 a.m. on Friday due to weather.
Woodland coach Tim Shea, who is 4-1 in leading his Hawks against Seymour, thinks the Wildcats will draw upon their superior effort against the Chargers for the rivalry game.
“Being in a very competitive rivalry game when I was a player, you try to use everything you can as motivation,” said Shea, a former Naugatuck standout. “I know Seymour’s going to use how it played against Ansonia as motivation, but they’re going to get our best effort.”
Seymour employs a no-nonsense style of offense in which it runs the ball nearly 45 times per game. Joey Salemme, Seymour’s leading rusher with 1,743 yards and 20 touchdowns, has been chasing Edwin Esson’s school record of 2,030 yards. Salemme has rushed for more than 200 yards in six games.
“Salemme is a very good player,” Shea says. “He reminds me a lot of Matt Zaccagnini. He plays really hard.”
The ‘Cats don’t boast a prolific passing game but quarterback Frank Marcucio has thrown 11 touchdown passes to just two interceptions. Salemme also ran the Wildcat offense in the Ansonia game, when he racked up 239 yards and two scores plus a 43-yard touchdown pass.
Most of Seymour’s passes go to Christian Thurmond, a hybrid tight end. He’s caught 11 of the team’s 12 touchdown throws with 485 yards through the air. Greg Chase-Patrick and Jack Briggs spell Salemme in the backfield and have accounted for nearly 500 yards and eight scores.
Woodland (9-2), of course, counters with its spread offense that enjoyed a record night in Beacon Falls last year. Tanner Kingsley, the all-state senior quarterback, threw for a state-record 615 yards and a Naugatuck Valley League-record eight touchdowns in a 62-28 win against the Wildcats.
The Hawks only ran for 49 yards in that game, but that figure should be higher this year with the emergence of sophomore running back Sean McAllen. McAllen has rushed for 1,306 yards and 13 touchdowns with an extra 404 yards and two scores through the air.
Kingsley, of course, makes the offense go. Statistically the third-leading passer in state history (7,564 yards and 107 touchdowns), Kingsley has 2,784 yards and 39 touchdowns with nine interceptions this year.
Mike Kenney (876 yards, 14 touchdowns), Taylor Tucciarone (570 and 12), Jack Pinho (281 and five), Dylan Abarzua (238 and two) and Joe Poeta (236 and two) have been Kingsley’s top targets.
Woodland has been in a bit of a slump, though, with a 2-2 record in its last four outings. In the Hawks’ two losses — a 37-18 defeat to Holy Cross and a 48-7 loss to Ansonia in the NVL championship — they have turned over the ball a combined eight times. Woodland has only given away the ball four times in its nine wins.
Still, even in the Hawks’ 32-27 comeback win over Derby, it took a fourth-and-25 Hail Mary from Kingsley to Kenney late in the game to win. It left many questioning Woodland’s ability to win on Thanksgiving eve and in the state playoffs.
“Everybody’s making too much out of that Derby game,” Shea says. “I told everyone that Derby was going to come out and play hard, and they did. Sometimes the kids need to block out that stuff. We’re dealing with high school kids. Who knows about their psyche, but it’s my job to fix that.”
With a win, Woodland would tie the all-time series with Seymour for the first time since 2004, when the Hawks tied the series through two meetings. The Wildcats won five in a row from 2005-08, including the 2007 Class SS semifinal, but Woodland has won the last four. Seymour leads overall, 6-5, but Woodland leads the averaging scoring, 30.3-26.5.
“Thanksgiving is a rivalry game,” Shea says. “All X’s and O’s and records go out the window. It’s about who wants it that bad that night. We’ve gotten it the last four years, and Seymour’s hungry to get it back. We’re going to do what we can to keep it. It should be a lot of fun. We have something to prove.”