Mezzo growing into his role

Naugatuck quarterback Jay Mezzo passes the ball against Wolcott this season. –REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

NAUGATUCK — After eight varsity starts, Naugatuck High junior and first-year starting quarterback Jay Mezzo is feeling rather good these days. Especially after the Greyhounds’ biggest game of the season last Thursday when Mezzo rallied Naugatuck to a fourth-quarter comeback en route to a 28-26 Naugatuck Valley League victory over Seymour at DeBarber Field.

Mezzo and the Greyhounds improved to 8-0 and are ranked first in the CIAC Class L playoff rankings.

“Jay has picked up his role very fast,” Naugatuck second-year head coach Dave Sollazzo noted. “I don’t see really that many growing pains from the start of the season.”

Against the Wildcats, Mezzo made two critical plays, the first in the final seconds of the first half when he connected with Zack Koslosky on a 9-yard TD, tying the score at 20-20 with just 4 seconds left. Koslosky’s PAT gave the Greyhounds a 21-20 edge at halftime.

The second one came midway through the fourth quarter with the Greyhounds facing a 26-21 deficit. Mezzo tossed a 24-yard TD pass to Elijah Robinson on third-and-18 situation.

The pass was perfectly placed in the right corner of the end zone with 6:44 left in the game.

“There was a tight window and Jay made a great throw and Elijah made a tremendous catch,” Sollazzo said.

Sollazzo said Mezzo has benefitted by the offensive line, featuring left tackle Syed Ahmad, left guard Ray Hess, center Anson Lau, right guard Andrew Balkcom and right tackle Derek McGrath, along with alternating tight ends Jonathan Vincent and Isaiah Williams.

“Jay showed very good poise,” Sollazzo said. “The offensive line gave him enough protection. They know their role and are very unselfish. They know Jay is their leader. They all rallied around him.”

Before the go-ahead drive late in the game, Mezzo encouraged his teammates to rely on each other and to just execute like they were capable of.

“It was the first time we faced adversity this season,” Mezzo said. “We needed to trust each other. I knew that if we did, we would score.”

Vincent praised Mezzo for his even-keel approach, especially down the stretch.

“Jay was amazing on that drive in the huddle,” Vincent said. “Everyone looked to him. He wasn’t worried or nervous. He was so calm and that made everyone not feel the pressure as much. We knew we were good hands.”

Mezzo said he is fortunate to have so many playmakers, notably Koslosky, Robinson, Williams and running backs Nick Airall and Malachi Gatison, around him.

“With all of the weapons, it has taken a little pressure off me,” Mezzo said. “My teammates and great coaching staff (Sollazzo and assistants Brendan McWeeney and Ollie Gray) have helped me so much. Everything has become routine.”

Mezzo credited his former teammate, three-year starting quarterback Mike Plasky, with helping him ease into the starting role. Plasky led the Greyhounds to a 9-2 overall record in 2017. He graduated in 2018.

“Mike Plasky was a role model for me and showed me what to do last year and even after he graduated, he showed me how to be a leader,” Mezzo said.“If you get flustered or anxious when things are going bad, you will not perform as well.”

With two regular-season games left with Holy Cross and Ansonia, and the Class L playoffs less than a month away, Sollazzo likes the progress Mezzo has made.

“Sky is the limit for Jay’s potential,” Sollazzo said. “He’s getting better and I hope he continues to. We’re going to need him.”