NAUGATUCK — There was a time a short while ago when a state tournament appearance would have marked a successful season for the Naugatuck football team. Those days are gone.
A feeling of disappointment swept over Veterans Field Tuesday following the No. 3 Greyhounds’ bitter 12-6 loss to No. 6 Platt in the Class L state quarterfinals. For the second consecutive year, Naugatuck ended the season with two straight losses — on Thanksgiving to Ansonia and in the state quarterfinals — to finish 9-2.
Naugatuck struggled to get the offense in gear against Platt (9-2), and a couple of mistakes cost the Greyhounds.
The first was a defensive breakdown that allowed Platt’s Lorenzo Sanson to scamper 63 yards for a touchdown on a quarterback draw and a 6-0 lead 7:47 into the game.
With 1:36 to play in the first half, Naugatuck’s Jeff Schebell fumbled a punt, setting up Platt at the Naugatuck 39-yard line.
Platt capitalized on the miscue when Sanson and Tremayne Carter connected on a 3-yard touchdown pass on the final play of the first half to give the Panthers a 12-0 lead at halftime.
“That was a tough one,” Naugatuck head coach David Sollazzo said after the game. “The defense played well enough to win. We beat ourselves, that’s the bottom line. Two games in a row we beat ourselves.
“We have to be more disciplined. We fumbled the ball and give it to them right before the half. They are a good football team and you can’t have those mistakes against a good football team.”
The Greyhounds battled back in the second half.
Doreon Chapman (12 carries, 81 yards) sparked a 90-yard drive with runs of 15, 25 and 16 yards, and Nick Airall capped the drive with a 9-yard touchdown run to make it a 12-6 game with 3:57 to go in the third quarter.
Naugatuck’s defense held firm, and the Greyhounds got the ball back still down 6 with a little over 5 minutes left to play. But the ensuing drive stalled some 30 yards from the end zone.
After the defense forced a three-and-out, the Greyhounds had one last-gasp effort with under a minute to play and no timeouts left. Platt made sure there would be no magical ending, as the Panthers sacked quarterback Jay Mezzo (11-for-22, 137 yards) on the final two plays of the game to seal the win.
What may be lost in the disappointing finish to the season is what this Greyhound team accomplished this year.
Only eight teams in the state went into the playoffs with a better record than Naugatuck. The last Naugatuck team to dominate the way this year’s team did — putting up 422 points and allowing just 79 points with six shutouts along the way — was the 1993 Greyhounds, who won a state championship.
Naugy posted back-to-back 9-2 seasons only one other time in the past 20 years, in 2013 and 2014.
Naugatuck will graduate a talented group of about 20 seniors, but will return a solid nucleus next season, including Mezzo, leading rusher Malachi Gatison, two able receivers in Paul Marsh and Isaiah Williams, and Herve Tshibamba on the defensive line.
The hard lessons learned this season and the disappointment felt should only prove to be motivation heading into next season.