On paper it would appear that Ansonia has the upper hand versus Naugatuck when it comes to the 118th Thanksgiving Day showdown between the Greyhounds and the Chargers — one of the oldest holiday rivalries in the state, if not New England.
The annual game has been a one-sided affair over the past quarter century as the Chargers have won 22 of the last 25 games and hold a decided edge in the series at 70-37-10.
However, football is played on a field, not on someone’s chart board. So the records go out the window in this game where classics become history and stars become legends.
This year has a different feel to it, too. Naugatuck and Ansonia are both 9-0 and will decide the NVL title when they kickoff at 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving at Veterans Field in Naugatuck.
“It’s been since 2001 the last time Naugatuck has been 9-0 going into a Thanksgiving Day game,” first-year Naugatuck head coach Dave Sollazzo said. “There are a lot of things that this team has done this year that they haven’t done in a long time.”
Naugatuck has lost the last six Thanksgiving games by an average score of 49-15, including last year’s 44-0 blowout loss. Naugatuck senior quarterback Mike Plasky knows all too well how this game can get out of hand in a hurry if the Greyhounds don’t get off to a fast start.
“We can’t afford to start out slow,” Plasky said. “The last couple of games we were able to turn it on in the second half to win big. Ansonia is not that kind of team where we can afford to do that.”
Plasky has thrown for 1,346 yards and 14 touchdowns this season. He’s added 165 yards and four touchdowns on the ground to lead an offense that has scored over 60 points in a game three times this season.
The ‘Hounds have racked up 395 points and allowed 119 this year, and it all starts up front in the trenches with seniors Sammy Ayash and Jiram Lopez and juniors Andrew Balkcom, Derek McGrath and Kevin DeSousa leading the way.
“We need to come ready to play,” Ayash said. “Since day one when Coach (Sollazzo) arrived he has been an inspiration to all of us. We can’t get caught up with trying to do too much because it’s Ansonia. We just need to stay focused and do what coach always says: do your job.”
The Greyhounds have plenty of weapons on offense.
Junior Zach Koslosky leads Naugatuck with nine touchdown receptions on 19 catches for 368 yards. Senior Ricardo Montanez (9 catches, 232 yards, 2 touchdowns), junior Elijah Robinson (14 catches, 240 yards, 3 touchdowns), sophomore Isaiah Williams (18 catches, 203 yards, 1 touchdown) senior Jevonte Swierbitowicz and junior Ty Coney give Plasky all the targets he needs.
The Greyhounds have a slew of options to run the ball as well with juniors Doreon Chapman (544 yards, 11 TDs), Nick Airall and Robinson (266 yards, 6 TDs), sophomore Malachi Gatison (334 yards, 2 TDs) and senior Efe Onakpoma (214 yards, 4 TDs).
Gatison leads the defense with 49 tackles. Jayden Anderson and Mike Natkiel have 34 tackles each, Hubert Lutzykowski has 26 and Tyrell Allen has 25.
Airall has returned two interceptions for a touchdown this year, and Justin Papp has one himself. Montanez leads the team with four interceptions, and Anderson has four sacks.
“We have a week and a half to prepare for Ansonia,” Lutzykowski said. “We need to stay focused and do what our coaches tell us to. We know we have to step it up defensively. If we continue to work hard we have the ability to be successful.”
Ansonia brings a wealth of experience and talent led by a head coach Tom Brockett, who has guided the Chargers to 12 straight playoff appearances, seven state championships and a 141-9 record.
The Chargers are all about smash-mouth football. They are led by senior Markell Dobbs, who has 1,145 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns.
Junior Darwin Amaya has added 331 yards rushing and seven touchdowns for the Chargers, and sophomore Shaykeem Harmon has chipped in 266 yards and four touchdowns.
Ansonia senior quarterback Justin Lopez has thrown for 317 yards and six touchdowns while rushing for 279 more yards and five scores.
Lopez’s favorite targets in the air are seniors Brent Washington (7 receptions, 200 yards, 4 TDs) and Cody Tedosio (5 catches, 98 yards, 2 touchdowns).
What separates the Chargers is a stout defense that has allowed just seven touchdowns all season. That has allowed Ansonia to beat teams by an average score of 54-4.
“Obviously, Ansonia sets the bar,” Sollazzo said. “That’s where we want to go. You talk about tradition, they got it. If we keep working hard that’s where we will be. They are a great program, and that’s where we are going.”
Editor’s note: This article appears in the Citizen’s News’ special Thanksgiving football section published the week of Nov. 24, 2017.