NAUGATUCK — The Greyhounds and Red Raiders kept the crowd at Veterans Field at the edge of its seat Oct. 8 in game that came down to the final seconds.
With Derby holding a 40-32 lead and the ball on the Naugatuck 11 yard line, the Greyhounds halted the Red Raiders on fourth down, giving themselves one final shot in the fourth quarter.
With 59 seconds left, quarterback Mike Plasky and the Naugatuck offense took the field looking to force overtime. Seven plays later, the Greyhounds were knocking on the door of a comeback at Derby’s 14 yard line.
The sophomore quarterback fired a pass at junior Tyler Deitlebaum in the end zone, who was hit early, resulting in a flag which would have been a pass interference and set Naugy up in tremendous position. However, the officials waved off the game-changing penalty, ruling the ball was deflected prior to the contact.
Naugatuck still had a pulse, though. With 4 seconds left on the clock, Plasky was forced to scramble out of the pocket and took one last shot at the end zone. Derby’s Alijah Ellis intercepted the pass and returned it 100 yards to seal a 46-32 victory for the Red Raiders.
“It’s brutal you know. It is a brutal loss,” head coach Craig Bruno said. “We played as hard as we could. We drove the ball down in the end and we came up short.”
The Greyhounds (2-3) started off slow, and Derby (3-2) took advantage.
Ricky Bartone gave the Red Raiders a 12-0 lead in the first quarter. The senior running back rushed for a 1-yard touchdown after an eight-play drive on the ground. On Derby’s next possession, quarterback Jake Finnucan found Bartone on a 36-yard touchdown pass.
After a long, hard-fought drive the Greyhounds finally made into the end zone in the second quarter after Plasky found Deitlebaum with a 10-yard pass and a successful two-point conversion. After Derby scored another touchdown through the air, Plasky found Deitlebaum yet again for the touchdown and two-point combo to cut the Derby lead to 20-16.
The Red Raiders increased their lead and momentum going into halftime after Ellis broke away for a 65-yard touchdown run to give Derby a 26-16 advantage at the break.
The Greyhounds came out in the second half with a new fire that was fueled by two crucial plays by senior Etty Ilunga.
Derby drove to Naugatuck’s 16 on the first drive of the second half after a series of runs by Bartone and Ellis. Then, as the Raiders went to the air, Ilunga intercepted Finnucan and sprinted 101 yards down the sideline for a touchdown. The Greyhounds cut the lead to 26-24 after the two-point conversion, compliments of Deitlebaum.
“When I caught the pick I thought [and] felt my team needed a big play as soon as possible,” Ilunga said. “I didn’t want them scoring another touchdown, so I stepped in front of it, took it, switched gears, and went all the way to the house.”
After the Red Raiders responded with a touchdown of their own, Ilunga scored once more for the Garnett and Grey after Plasky found him for a 76-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 32-32 with 5 seconds left in the third.
Bartone gave Derby a 40-32 lead on a 1-yard touchdown run at the start of the fourth quarter to set up the dramatic final scene.
Despite the games ultimate result, the Greyhounds put on a noteworthy performance, particularly through the air. For a team that has utilized a run-heavy strategy this season, Plasky showed that passing is still an option for Naugatuck’s game plan down the line.
“I feel like that was definitely one of my better performances of the year,” Plasky said. “A lot of receivers made good plays out there for me, and that helped a lot. Really all around the board our effort was great. Unfortunately, we just came up short.”
With 266 passing yards and three out of four Naugy touchdowns, the sophomore quarterback showed an ability to lead under pressure, garnering his coach’s praise in the process.
“He played a great [game],” Bruno said. “[He was] poised, [and he] played hard right to the finish.”
The Greyhounds will have a chance to regroup with a bye this week before hitting the road to take on Crosby Oct. 22 at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury.