Greyhounds band together to slip by Derby

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Naugatuck’s Zac Mercer (12) hauls in a 35-yard pass over Derby’s Brian Dobck (34) last Saturday at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury. Naugatuck improved to 2-0 on the season with a 14-13 win. RA ARCHIVE

WATERBURY — The few hundred fans at Municipal Stadium—site of Saturday’s rescheduled Naugatuck-Derby game—grew restless as the Greyhounds trailed throughout the second half. They wanted Naugy to air it out.

The ‘Hounds stuck to their game plan and pounded away on the ground with Jake Yourison. But with less than two minutes to go, Naugatuck finally attempted a pass—the running back did, anyway.

Yourison hooked up with quarterback Zac Mercer on a 35-yard gain on 2nd-and-22 from the Derby 47-yard line, and on the next play Yourison strolled in from 12 yards out for the game-tying touchdown. Kevin Tousignant’s PAT gave Naugy a 14-13 lead and the win.

Sure, it looks like just a handful of plays led the Greyhounds (2-0) to the win. But the victory was far more of a team effort than the average spectator may have noticed.

“Our whole receiving corps was out and in our secondary three of four were out,” Naugatuck head coach Rob Plasky said. “Everyone wants to say throw the ball. Who am I going to throw it to? For seven of 11 on the defense, it was basically their first full varsity game. We had a bunch of Band-Aids out there.”

Those defensive patches played perhaps the best game possible against Derby quarterback Ray Kreiger, likely the best signal-caller in the league. He racked up 249 passing yards but managed only one touchdown.

“We mixed it up a little bit,” Plasky said. “We showed different coverages because Kreiger will pick you apart. We were coming up looking to make tackles. I would rather see us run the ball and not give it to them. I don’t live and die with the pass.”

And there it is—Naugatuck had a game plan and stuck to it.

Yourison was a major factor in that plan as he rushed for 191 yards even while barely being able to stay on the field at times.

“My stomach was bugging me all day,” Yourison said. “I think it was something I ate. It was killing me but I was fighting through and doing what I needed to do.”

He did just that. When the Red Raiders scored a touchdown on a 21-yard pass from Kreiger to Brian Dobek, Yourison responded on the next drive by pounding the ball down the field on a 12-play series that he finished with a 13-yard touchdown run through three tacklers.

Naugatuck’s Mike Schebell (32) barrels over Derby’s Raymond Kreiger last Saturday at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury. The Greyhounds earned a hard-fought 14-13 win. RA ARCHIVE

Derby went ahead again on its first possession of the second half on a 2-yard run by Tyrae Small, but the PAT kick failed. From there, Yourison and the Naugatuck defense held the Raiders long enough to set up one final chance.

After Naugatuck went three-and-out midway through the fourth quarter, Mercer came on to punt and unleashed a 56-yarder to the Derby 6. That was the first in a series of game-changing plays down the stretch.

“I just wanted to get it out toward the end zone so we’d have a chance to get the ball back,” Mercer said.

Naugy forced a three-and-out by the Red Raiders and gained possession at their own 43 with 4:20 to play.

On the ensuing series, Naugatuck faced a 2nd-and-13 from its own 40-yard line. An 11-yard screen from Mercer to Mike Schebell set up a 3rd-and-2. Yourison, the go-to guy, wasn’t sure what he had left in him.

“He came to the sideline with 1:37 left and he said, ‘Coach, I can’t do it,’” Plasky said. “So I said to him, ‘There’s 1:37 left. Do you want me to put someone else in?’ And he said, ‘Coach, I’ll run the ball.’ No matter what’s the situation, he gives everything he has. I can’t say enough about his performance in the first two weeks for us.”

On cue, Yourison broke out a 19-yard run to the Derby 30. Two plays later, he took a direct snap and began a run toward the right side of the field. Just as he approached the line of scrimmage, Yourison uncorked a pass to Mercer, who ran a fly pattern down the right sideline. Mercer reeled in the ball with his right hand in double coverage to give the Greyhounds possession at the Derby 12.

“That was amazing play and an amazing feeling,” Mercer said. “I looked down and saw the safety coming down to make the catch. I just prayed I’d make the catch. I had total confidence that he’d make the throw.”

“We were trying to stretch people outside,” Yourison said. “Nobody was expecting us to try to run and then pull up and throw. We caught them off-guard.”

On the next play, Naugy went back to its bread and butter for the go-ahead score—a 12-yard touchdown on the ground by Yourison.

“That’s what we do,” Yourison said. “That’s what Naugatuck does, ground and pound all day.”

Tousignant’s PAT was barely even thought about because the fill-in kicker made it with ease.

“[He only practiced] yesterday,” Plasky said. “He hit about five out of seven.”

Derby couldn’t handle the ensuing kickoff, which was recovered by Ashin Sajad to effectively seal the game for Naugy.

“We had guys today that did everything for us,” Plasky said.

Naugatuck plays a Saturday game for the third week in a row this week when it faces St. Paul in Bristol at 3:30 p.m.