NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck High football team heads down the homestretch of the season with a next-man-up mentality as several key players are out for the year with injuries.
The Greyhounds dominated the first five games of the season, but dropped two straight close games in the final minutes to fall to 5-2.
The losses dropped Naugatuck to No. 13 in the Class LL playoff rankings — the top eight make the postseason. Whether the Greyhounds can make a push to the postseason remains to be seen, as three final tests await them.
Naugy will play Holy Cross (6-2) Saturday, before hosting Watertown (6-2) on Nov. 21.
Then there’s the annual Thanksgiving Day game with Ansonia (9-0). The Greyhounds will host the Chargers, winners of 94 straight Naugatuck Valley League games, Nov. 28 with kickoff at 10 a.m.
“Everything that we have worked for (the state playoffs) is still ahead of us,” Naugatuck head coach Dave Sollazzo said. “When the opportunity arises you need to finish, and the last two games we didn’t finish well.”
“We lost 18 guys from last year,” he added “so we knew going into the season that these younger guys were going to have to step up.”
The Greyhounds were without their best lineman, Josh Lastra, and two of their best offensive weapons in Malachi Gatison and Jeff Schebell in a 14-7 loss to Torrington Nov. 1.
“It presents an opportunity for some of the younger guys to get in there and show what they can do,” Gatison said. “Connor Maxwell has come in and been making plays for us.”
Alexis Chacon stepped up to fill the role at the line of scrimmage, Aaron Smith carried the ground game and Maxwell made sure the air attack didn’t lose a step.
“We have a lot of younger guys stepping up,” Lastra said. “Alexis Chacon came in and has done a great job for us. Our line is still one of the strengths on this team.”
Following the loss to the Raiders, the Greyhounds fell to Seymour, 20-17, in double overtime. Nov. 8. Naugy outgained Seymour (6-3) on offense 375 to 331 in total yards, but came up one play short in double overtime.
After the teams didn’t score in the first overtime, Joe Pinho booted a 22-yard field goal in the second overtime to put Naugy on top 17-14. With Seymour facing a fourth-and-three on the ensuing possession, quarterback Kevin Harmeling ran in a touchdown to give the Wildcats the walk-off win.
Seymour took the lead twice in regulation, but Naugatuck quarterback Jay Mezzo tied the game with his feet on touchdown runs of nine yards and 61 yards. The senior signal caller was 11 for 18 passing for 106 yards and had 93 yards rushing on nine carries.
“They made more plays than we did,” Sollazzo said. “That was the same thing in Torrington. We had opportunities in both games. It comes down to catching the ball. We dropped two passes in the end zone. It’s not like we didn’t have our chances. It just comes down to making the plays.”