WEST HAVEN — The biggest number—practically, if not mathematically—haunting the Naugatuck High School football program after Friday’s blowout loss to Notre Dame-West Haven is not 388 (the total yards surrendered in the first half by the Greyhounds’ defense), nor is it 42 (the number of points it allowed, all in the first half). No, the enormous figure that has head coach Rob Plasky fretting the near future is 16 (the number of injured players on his roster).
Entering the contest, the Garnet and Grey were down six two-way starters: tight end/linebacker Mike Kennedy (torn ACL), lineman Ken Jones (sprained MCL), lineman Dan Bergeron (concussion), running back/defensive back Dashawn Wingate (thigh contusion), running back/defensive back Marty DeJesus (thigh contusion) and running back/defensive back Andrew Cirino (broken collarbone).
By the time the powerful Green Knights were done pushing Naugy around Veterans Stadium, wide receiver/defensive back Marquan Williams, who often takes handoffs as a slot receiver in motion, was sidelined by an ankle sprain, and three more Hounds were concussed: wide receiver/defensive back Matt D’Agnone and linemen Anthony McKernan and Dan Mariano. Among those 10, only Bergeron is expected to return this week.
Toss in another half dozen backups and special teamers, and this is one sore football team.
“Last year, we’d do contact drills on Monday, maybe Tuesday,” Plasky said. “Now, we thud all week. We don’t go to the ground.”
Thudding refers to players simply bumping into one another during practice, as opposed to tackling. Naugatuck simply can’t afford to lose any more guys.
The short-but-definitely-not-sweet account of Friday’s game is this: Notre Dame running back Justin Willis tallied three first-quarter touchdowns—a trio of runs that alone totaled 102 rushing yards—and the Knights overwhelmed the Greyhounds, 42-8. The hosts would have been flirting with the CIAC’s 50-point margin-of-victory limit if they hadn’t shut down their offense during the final two quarters.
“What I saw is that we can execute, at times,” Plasky said. “But we don’t finish very well.”
Perhaps the most debilitating blow is to the team’s running game. The backfield that just a couple weeks ago looked deeper than the Mariana Trench was forced Friday to turn to a sophomore making just his fifth career start at fullback and a freshman team callup. The former, burly Jake Yourison, delivered by carrying 16 times for 98 yards. The latter, Nick Kosa, scored a 1-yard touchdown with 28 seconds remaining in the game.
“He’s a standout,” Naugy freshman coach Shawn Kuczenski said of Kosa.
And he may not be the only ninth grader who sees varsity action in the coming weeks. Kuczenski’s squad is 5-0 this fall, led by a marauding defense that has given up only six points and five first downs so far. There’s talent down there, but no one thought it might have to be used at the varsity level midway through the season.
The Hounds’ third straight loss virtually knocks them out of Class L playoff contention, but one consolation is the defeat—however lopsided—does not affect their Naugatuck Valley League Copper Division standing. The Garnet and Grey remain 1-1 in the Copper, with four straight division games looming against Sacred Heart and Kennedy at home and Woodland and Holy Cross on the road.
Last year, in a rare showing of offensive firepower, Naugy exploded for five second-half touchdowns against the Hearts in a 40-23 victory. Quarterback Erich Broadrick had what remains the best passing performance of his career: 12-for-16, 155 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Now in an unexpectedly lonely backfield, the junior may need a few more games like that one to keep his wounded team in the Copper conversation.