Editor’s note: This is the first story of a short series commemorating anniversaries of significant moments in Woodland and Naugatuck sports history. Our first story looks at the 15-year anniversary of Woodland’s undefeated run to the 2004 Class SS state football title.
Fifteen years after the Woodland High football team completed a remarkable birth-to-championship saga, Chris Anderson thinks it’s time for the milestone that caps every meaningful legacy — a book.
“Ando has been talking about that book for years,” said Pat Krakowski, the team’s All-State running back and defensive back.
“It would be a best-seller,” All-State quarterback Jared Katchmar added.
Anderson, the former Derby standout and Shelton assistant coach, was hired in 2001 to start a football program at the Valley’s newest high school. The Hawks started as a junior varsity program in the first year, followed by an independent varsity team in 2002, and finally a full-fledged Naugatuck Valley League member in 2003.
After the trials and tribulations of those first three years — including narrowly missing out on a Class SS playoff berth in 2003 — Anderson knew something special was brewing for 2004.
“It was a very special group,” Anderson said. “It was still a brand-new school, the first group coming through for four years. The community was all on board. The kids worked so hard and they felt like they deserved to win from the work they’d put in. Our staff met at least once a week for 52 weeks, and we were very prepared. Everybody knew that we were going to be good.”
During the summer, Anderson arranged a senior trip in which the Hawks visited the home fields of their four road opponents that season — Naugatuck, Torrington, Sacred Heart and Ansonia. The team took some dirt from the fields and kept it in the weight room.
“I would tell them backstories about the field, just so when we got to those fields, we’d been there already,” Anderson said.
Woodland cruised to an 8-0 start, helped in part by a midseason stretch in which the Hawks shut out opponents for 24 consecutive quarters. In Week 9, the NVL Small Division title was on the line in a downpour at Jarvis Stadium. Legendary Ansonia coach Jack Hunt wanted an advantage, so he decided to play the game in hopes that Woodland’s offense would suffer. It didn’t work.
“All he had to do was cancel the game and we wouldn’t have played with such a grudge,” Katchmar said. “We didn’t want to play in the rain, and we knew he did because we wanted to throw the ball, so that really pissed us off.”
Woodland went on to shut out Ansonia, 21-0, the first time an NVL team had done that to the Chargers in 11 years. Katchmar threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to a diving Matt Trzaski, Krakowski rushed for 90 yards and a score, and Eric Battis returned an interception for a touchdown to seal the game. Woodland allowed just 162 yards of total offense.
“From Day 1, that was one of our ultimate goals,” Krakowski said. “Ansonia was the best thing since sliced bread, and the fact that we were put in a situation to shut them out on their own field ended up in the best team win we had.”
Anderson looks back on that win and considers it one of the most surreal moments of the year.
“When I was a little kid, if you’d told me I was going to coach a team that was going to shut out Ansonia on their home field, I’d say you’re out of your mind,” he said.
Two weeks later, the Hawks hosted Seymour for the NVL championship on a blustery day after Thanksgiving before an estimated 5,000 fans.
The Hawks and Wildcats went back and forth all afternoon. Seymour took a 22-21 lead early in the fourth quarter, and just as Woodland was about to grab it back late in the period on a long pass from Katchmar to Shane Kingsley, the wide receiver fumbled away the ball.
The Hawks, though, forced a three-and-out on the following series, using all three of their timeouts to get the ball back quickly. On the ensuing drive, Katchmar hit Jeff Jones with four passes, including the game-winning 12-yarder with 47.4 seconds left.
Two-way lineman Mike Stankus said the crowd — many of whom were standing on fire trucks and any other object they could find — made its presence felt on the field.
“You’d take a look and see how many people were there and feel the emotion,” Stankus said in a 2013 interview. “On the field, you could feel the ground shaking.”
Anderson described the feeling of winning the NVL championship as “shock — not that we didn’t expect it, because we did, but it was almost a numbing feeling.”
Four days later, Woodland hosted Hartford Public in the Class SS semifinals. Katchmar snuck for a touchdown and threw another to Trzaski in a 13-6 slugfest of a victory.
“The Pub was no joke,” Krakowski said. “That should have been the championship game. Those guys were fast, mean and aggressive. It wasn’t easy to move the ball on them, but defensively we stood up to the challenge.”
Four days after that, Woodland routed Holy Cross, 35-0, to win the Class SS state title. Krakowski’s first-quarter interception set the tone, and he finished with 175 rushing yards with two touchdowns. Katchmar threw for 238 yards and three TDs, all three to Jones.
“As soon as we got the ball, we never looked back,” Krakowski said. “We set the tone right there. It was just another magical game. We couldn’t have played better if we asked.”
Woodland finished sixth in the final media poll that year — a ranking that Anderson thought was five spots too low.
“I believe we were the best team in the state in 2004,” Anderson said. “They were so mentally tough that they could overcome any obstacle in their way, and we were the best defense I’ve seen in this league in a long time.”
Anderson, who’s back with the Hawks these days as the offensive coordinator, looks back and isn’t sure if he’d do everything the same way. But he’s sure glad it worked out the way it did.
“I set the bar extremely high,” Anderson said. “I wasn’t going to accept anything less than being a champion. You look back now and life has different avenues and you learn, and you think, is winning that important? It is, of course. But back then, you’re young and hungry and that’s all you’re thinking.”