EAST LONGMEADOW, Mass. — The Naugatuck football team found out a lot about itself in the season opener as the ‘Hounds came away with a 34-15 win over East Longmeadow (Mass.).
The long trip out of state had the Greyhounds with their backs to the wall, playing an unfamiliar opponent, but it also brought the team together.
A few questions were answered along the way as Naugatuck prepares to defend its Naugatuck Valley League title.
Would the ‘Hounds be able to mount an effective running game behind a rebuilt line? Yes. Would the Greyhounds be able to mix up things with a timely passing game after losing its starting quarterback from last season? Yes. Could the defensive unit lead this team to victory when called upon to do so? Yes.
“We were able to establish the run and mix in the passing game,” Naugatuck head coach Rob Plasky said. “We did it with two running backs and a defensive back out with injuries. We will have all three players back for this Friday when we take on a very good Derby team.”
Jake Yourison ran for 171 yards on 22 carries and scored two touchdowns in the season-opening win last Saturday. But he wasn’t alone in the backfield as Mike Schebell scored the game’s first touchdown and finished the day with 30 yards rushing and 83 yards receiving on four catches.
Zac Mercer certainly got the job done in the pocket as he threw for 165 yards on 9-of-14 passing with two touchdown strikes. He also ran in a score as part of his 9 yards rushing.
“Zac did a good job for us and made all the plays we asked him to,” added Plasky. “He got off to a slow start but once he made that hook up for a score he settled in and was very accurate.”
With the game still hanging in the balance and Naugatuck clinging to a 14-7 lead, the defense sparked a 20-point fourth quarter as it came away with three key turnovers down the stretch.
Charles McLain and Rich Pimental recovered fumbles and Naugatuck took them down the field for touchdowns to secure the win. Yourison had an interception late in the second quarter that led to the go-ahead score right before the half.
Mercer got it started as the quarterback hooked up with Schebell on a 30-yard pass play. The two-point conversion failed and Naugatuck held a 6-0 advantage.
East Longmeadow came back and scored on a Tom Mazza 57-yard run and the conversion gave the home team a 7-6 cushion.
Just before the half ended Yourison barreled in from 3 yards out with only 30 seconds left. Mercer threw a two-point conversion pass to Mike D’Agnone to give the Hounds a 14-7 lead.
The game entered the fourth quarter with Naugatuck clinging to a one-score lead when Mercer dove into the end zone from a yard out to push the advantage to 21-7 on Mick Pernell’s extra point kick.
That’s when the defense stepped in with McLain recovering a fumble. Mercer wasted little time in finding Pernell on a 29-yard touchdown toss for a 28-7 advantage.
East Longmeadow closed the gap on a Mazza 8-yard run and the two-point conversion was good. Naugatuck was in front, 28-15, when Pimental recovered a fumble to ensure there would be no comeback attempt.
Yourison closed the deal, rambling 44 yards into the end zone to complete the 34-15 victory on the road. Pernell caught two passes for 56 yards and tight end Besim Bomova hauled in three catches for 26 yards.
“I think this game on the road really brought this team together,” said Plasky. “East Longmeadow is a class organization and we came out and played a solid football game on both sides of the ball. We had a lot of fun and being so far from home I think this game brought us together as a team and showed us a lot about ourselves.”
Naugatuck opens league play when it hosts Derby Friday at 7 p.m.