ANSONIA — The sting of disappointment for Naugatuck football coach Dave Sollazzo was as bitter as the brisk winds that picked up throughout Thanksgiving morning at Jarvis Stadium.
The letdown was so sharp, in fact, that the usually verbose Sollazzo had only six terse words to say after Ansonia had held off Naugatuck, 34-22, before a crowd of about 3,000.
“We beat ourselves,” Sollazzo said as he gazed into the distance.
When asked about the offensive adjustments that allowed Naugy to forge a 22-22 tie midway through the fourth quarter, he briefly praised the Greyhounds’ play up front.
“We blocked better,” the second-year coach said before heading back to the locker room.
The realization had already set in for Sollazzo and the Naugatuck faithful, who made up the vast majority of the lively fans in attendance, that the ‘Hounds could have won this game. The opportunity to beat Ansonia and win the Naugatuck Valley League championship for the first time since 2010 was real. Then it was gone.
It was, in fact, the first game in this series since 2010 in which Naugatuck (9-1) was either leading or tied in the fourth quarter. The Greyhounds pulled even when Jay Mezzo found Paul Marsh on an 8-yard slant for a touchdown and Zach Koslosky snared the two-point conversion pass to make it 22-22 with 7:54 remaining.
For the rest of the quarter, though, it was all Ansonia (10-0). Sheldon Schuler tossed the game-winning touchdown pass on an 8-yarder to Tyler Cafaro, and after a Naugatuck punt, Shykeem Harmon scored the last of his three touchdowns on a 40-yard jaunt with 2:56 left to put the game out of reach.
“We talked about pride,” Ansonia coach Tom Brockett said about the sideline discussion following Naugy’s game-tying score. “We didn’t want to lose this one here. There would have been a big party here if we had lost this one. This game meant an awful lot to (Naugatuck). They have been talking about it really since the day after Thanksgiving (last year). This game was important to our program.”
Naugy staked itself to a 14-0 deficit by allowing a handful of big plays and failing to move the football during the first quarter. But the ‘Hounds started to settle in and started to make it a game when Isaiah Williams leapt to make an acrobatic catch on a third-down pass from Mezzo for a 20-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion run made it 14-8 with 8:45 left in the half.
The Greyhounds came up with a fourth-and-goal stop on the ensuing Ansonia series, but two plays later, Luca Belenchia sacked Mezzo in the end zone for a safety that ended the momentum and sent the game to halftime at 16-8.
Naugatuck again stopped Ansonia on fourth down to open the second half, and the Greyhounds began a promising drive. But a pair of bad snaps, an intentional grounding and a sack forced Naugy to punt. The punt snap was also errant, giving Ansonia the ball at the 1-yard line. Harmon punched in the score for a 22-8 lead with 3:13 left in the third.
But Mezzo and the Greyhounds weren’t finished. He began to exploit a connection with Koslosky, who caught passes of 38 and 13 yards to set up a 12-yard touchdown hookup between Mezzo and Williams to make it 22-14 late in the third.
Koslosky then broke up a third-down pass on Ansonia’s ensuing drive to force a punt, and Mezzo found Paul Marsh twice on big pass plays to reach the Chargers’ 5, setting up the game-tying score.
Mezzo was outstanding in his first start against Ansonia, going 12-of-25 passing for 226 yards and three touchdowns. Despite the team’s costly mistakes at times, he said he was proud of the Greyhounds’ effort.
“Two years ago, when I was a freshman standing on the sideline, I saw a different game than what was presented today,” Mezzo told the Republican-American. “I think we have a lot more heart. We stayed in the game. It’s a very good rivalry, and I think as the years go on, we will make the improvements needed, fix some tiny details and have a chance to take them down. They are a well-coached team that executes well, but I think in the next couple years we will get them.”
Ansonia won its 85th straight game against NVL opposition and extended its series lead to 73-37-10. It was the closest game in the series since Naugy’s 14-13 win in 2001.
Naugatuck earned the No. 3 seed in the Class L state playoffs and will host a quarterfinal game Tuesday against No. 6 Platt (8-2) at 6:30 p.m. The semifinals will be played Sunday at the site of the higher-seeded team, followed by the finals at neutral sites Dec. 8.