There will be a lot more on the line than bragging rights when two of the oldest gridiron rivals in the state meet on Thanksgiving morning. Naugatuck will be looking to secure a playoff berth in Class L with a win over Ansonia when the two Valley rivals face off.
“We’ve had a good year,” Naugatuck head coach Craig Bruno said. “A lot of first-year guys starting and they have been getting better as the season goes on. We are excited and can’t wait to play Ansonia.”
The Thanksgiving Day showdown between two teams that first played 117 years ago will come down to defense.
Naugatuck (7-2) has allowed 18 points per game this year, while Ansonia (9-0) has given up just 9.3 points per game.
In Naugatuck’s seven victories this season the defense has allowed a total of 65 points, or 9.3 per game. But in losses to Seymour (48-12) and Wolcott (49-20), the defense couldn’t keep the ‘Hounds in the game.
The Greyhounds’ defense will have their hands full with an Ansonia team that is scoring an average of 49.4 points per game this year and has averaged 51 points per game against Naugatuck the last three seasons.
The last Greyhounds’ victory on Thanksgiving came in 2010 at Ansonia when Naugatuck won the NVL title and advanced to the state playoffs.
Recently, it seems like every decade or so Naugatuck finds the winning touch. Prior to 2010, Naugatuck’s last win over Ansonia came in 2001.
Could this be the year when Naugy strikes again?
A lot would have to happen in order for the game to play out in the Greyhounds’ favor.
Ansonia, as always, is loaded on offense and has topped 60 points three times this year, including its most recent win over Holy Cross, a 68-14 victory.
Ansonia junior running back Markell Dobbs (1,362 yards, 18 touchdowns) and senior 6-foot-2, 238-pound fullback Macolm Martin pave the way on the ground. Senior quarterback Bryson Cafaro provides balance and has thrown for 519 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Greyhounds have been no stranger to the end zone this season themselves. Naugatuck has put up 357 points (39.6 ppg) and is coming of a 55-18 over Waterbury Career that saw the ‘Hounds score 30 points in the first quarter.
Naugatuck comes into the fray with one of the most versatile offenses since Bruno took the helm four years ago.
Junior quarterback Mike Plasky has completed 95 of 163 passes for 1,923 yards and 23 touchdowns in his second season leading the Greyhounds’ offense. Senior wide receiver Jalen Datil has been Plasky’s top target with 46 catches for 1,146 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Senior running back Tyler Deitelbaum gives the Greyhounds balance with 764 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. Deitelbaum can also strike through the air. He has 10 catches for 87 yards and two touchdowns.
“We definitely have a lot more balance to our offense,” Bruno said. “We are trying to use as many guys to stay as balanced as we can so defenses can’t just load up and key on any one player.”
The Greyhounds have shown they can score on the ground and in the air, but the way to victory on Thanksgiving will be a defense that can keep Ansonia in check as they did in 2010.
“There is always talk about the history of this rivalry but in our minds the history is Ansonia is 9-0 and we are 7-2,” Bruno said. “We prepare each week to be physically and mentally ready. We know what Ansonia has and who we need to focus on.
“A lot of teams are still playing and they are not in the running. We are playing for a playoff spot and we just have to keep grinding.”
Editor’s note: This article appears in the Citizen’s News’ special Thanksgiving football section published the week of Nov. 25, 2016.