Plenty on the line when Hawks, Chargers clash

 

Woodland’s Jason Palmieri (8) runs with ball after making a catch against Sacred Heart-Kaynor Tech on Oct. 18 at Municipal Stadium. -BILL SHETTLE/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

BEACON FALLS — One of the biggest football games to ever be played in Beacon Falls is almost here.

Woodland, which improved to 7-0 with a 40-0 win over Crosby last Friday, will host undefeated Ansonia on Friday at 6:30 p.m. in a Valley clash with numerous implications.

The Hawks took care of business against the Bulldogs. Jason Hicks caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Bulinski, and Jason Palmieri returned an interception 50 yards for a score for the unbeaten Hawks.

The other scores for Woodland came from Edit Krivca on a 20-yard run, leading rusher Ben Brooks on a 5-yard run, Richie Weishner on a 5-yard run and Nick Rousseau on a 10-yard run.

The Woodland-Ansonia matchup will be the first game ever played in November at Woodland between a pair of undefeated teams.

The Chargers (7-0) are seven-time defending Naugatuck Valley League champions and have won 82 straight games against NVL opponents. The Hawks haven’t beaten Big Blue since 2005, although they came agonizingly close to pulling a monumental upset the last time the teams met in 2014.

Both teams are also jockeying for position in the Class S state playoff rankings. Woodland is the No. 4-ranked team in the division, while Ansonia is No. 3 following a 43-0 win over Kennedy on Oct. 25.

And finally, the Hawks and Chargers are both tied for the NVL Copper Division lead. The winner of this game will join Naugatuck as the top contenders for the league championship.

Yeah, just a little bit on the line — even though Ansonia will be a substantial favorite.

“They’re very good — it’s Ansonia,” Woodland coach Chris Moffo said. “They’re very good on both sides of the ball, and their team speed is a big issue. They’re very fast and physical and they fly around, and they’re well coached. They’re a great program. They present a lot of issues on both sides of the ball.”

Woodland’s attendance has been on the rise throughout the season, and another sizable crowd with a raucous student section is expected for the Hawks’ most important home game since the 2013 Class S quarterfinals against Morgan.

“The school, the faculty, the towns — they always come out and support us,” Moffo said. “Whether we’re 1-9 or 7-0, they come out and have our back. That’s a big part of being a Hawk. We’re very grateful to have that.”

The Hawks have given those fans plenty to cheer about so far this fall. Their 7-0 start is Woodland’s best since it started the 2013 campaign with a 7-0 mark. The Black and Gold has prided itself this season on a strong running game led by Krivca and a defense that has allowed 8.8 points per game.

Woodland enjoyed a midseason bye week after a tight, 23-22 win over St. Paul on Oct. 5, and the Hawks jolted out of the week off with a 42-12 pasting of Sacred Heart-Kaynor Tech on Oct. 18.

“It came at a good time,” Moffo said of the bye week. “We were nicked up a little bit. It allowed us to get some guys healthy. The kids can use a little refresher.”

In the win over the Hearts, Palmieri, a freshman, scored a pair of rushing touchdowns, while Zach Cochran, Rousseau, Bulinski and Krivca also scored. Palmieri has been particular impressive as a rookie starting in the backfield and at linebacker.

“He’s awesome. He’s a hard worker,” Moffo said. “The stress that we’ve put on Jason the last few weeks — for a freshman to take that on full stride, take to coach, and learn from everything, he’s doing tremendously. He’s very coachable and has grown each week. We’ve very pleased with him.”

Friday’s game against Ansonia is the first game in a difficult final month for the Hawks. They will visit Oxford on Nov. 9 before wrapping up the regular season on Thanksgiving eve against Seymour in a game that could send the winner to the state playoffs.

“The tail end of our season is very tough, and the kids know that,” Moffo said. “We’ve been preaching to them about execution and work ethic in practice. They need to come out and get better every day.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated from the version that is published in the Nov. 1 edition of the Citizen’s News to include information on games played after press time.