ANSONIA — The Naugatuck Greyhounds stepped into Jarvis Stadium on Thanksgiving Day with their most potent offensive attack in more than 10 years. They would have needed to take advantage of every opportunity to stay with the red-hot Ansonia Chargers.
The Chargers entered the teams’ 113th meeting with a 24-game winning streak but heavy hearts after legendary coach Jack Hunt, who beat Naugy 17 of 19 times and won seven state titles, passed away from his battle with cancer about an hour before kickoff.
With emotions running high on the Ansonia sidelines, the Chargers pulled away with a 48-27 win over Naugatuck before an estimated 3,000 fans on a gorgeous day.
“I’m so proud of these kids,” Naugatuck interim coach Shawn Kuczenski said. “They came in here looking to make a game of this and nobody really gave us a chance. We just kept preaching that, ‘You guys can beat this team.’ We made Ansonia play hard for all four quarters and for that I’m so proud of this team.”
The Naugatuck (6-4) defense focused on stopping Ansonia (11-0) running back Arkeel Newsome (218 yards, five touchdowns) and for the most part got the job done in the first quarter (eight carries for 35 yards).
But quarterback Jai’Quan McKnight stepped up early. On the third play of the game, McKnight faked a pitch to Newsome before taking it himself for a 63-yard touchdown.
Naugy answered two plays later when quarterback Jason Bradley (8-of-17 for 144 yards) dropped back and hit Mick Pernell in stride for an over-the-shoulder, 61-yard touchdown. With just 1:02 played in the game it was a 7-6 Ansonia lead.
“After that first score we had to show them that we could play with them,” Kuczenski said.
Matt Carda, Ron Parker, and Will Paul put the defensive pressure on the Chargers, forcing a turnover on downs. On the next possession, Naugy drove for a score.
Bradley completed four passes in an 11-play drive hitting Brandon Kuczenski once and Pernell thrice to set up Pernell’s 24-yard field goal to make it a 9-7 game with 5:56 left in the first.
Ansonia struck back to take a permanent lead when McKnight took off on another quarterback run, going 60 yards to make it a 13-9 game. After a Naugy punt, Newsome punched in a 2-yard touchdown for a 20-9 lead.
Both teams got stops on their next series. Then Nate Franklin returned a punt 40 yards to set up the ‘Hounds deep in Ansonia territory. Kuczenski went up and pulled down a 30-yard pass to make it a first and goal before Bradley snuck it in for the touchdown to make it a 20-15 deficit with 10:34 to go in the half.
The Chargers came back again when Newsome broke a 57-yard run and eventually scored on a 7-yard blast. On the Chargers’ next series McKnight threw an 8-yard touchdown strike to Newsome as Ansonia went into the half with a commanding 34-15 lead.
Late in the first half, Bradley headed to the sideline with a foot injury that kept him out for the rest of the game and changed the complexion of the Greyhounds offense.
Pernell and Jerome Love (17 carries for 65 yards) took direct snaps from the wildcat formation before Ricky Plasky and Franklin took a few snaps. On Naugy’s first series of the half without Bradley, it drove to the Ansonia 10-yard line before turning it over on downs.
“With Jason being out for the second half it kind of took away our passing game,” Kuczenski said. “But I’m proud of our linemen. They played their best game of the season.”
“We knew that Naugatuck has some dangerous players on offense especially in their wildcat formation,” said Ansonia coach Tom Brockett, whose team entered the Class S playoffs as the No. 1 seed. “Bradley is a young quarterback but he is going to turn out to be a real good player for them.”
Later in the half, Mark Cavagnuolo recovered a fumble for the ‘Hounds and Nate Franklin (3-of-5 passing for 100 yards) hit Pernell (eight catches for 162 yards) for a 30-yard touchdown pass.
Newsome scored his fifth touchdown of the game with five minutes left in the game to make it 48-21 before Franklin scored on a 5-yard carry for the final points in the 48-27 outcome.
McKnight earned the Clarence Fortin Most Valuable Player trophy as he passed for 147 yards and a touchdown with 146 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
“We had seven underclassmen on offense and defense,” said Kuczenski, who coached his final game as the interim coach before Naugatuck opens up the full-time coaching search. “I’m really looking forward to see these kids develop and we have a real good future for the next couple of years.”