NAUGATUCK — With 4 minutes, 9 seconds to play in the fourth quarter last Friday night, the Sacred Heart football team and its fans were in a frenzy. Shyquan Thompson had just returned an interception 52 yards for a touchdown and Jaquan Overbey’s extra point split the uprights to give the Hearts a 29-28 lead over the Greyhounds.
It was Overbey’s 75-yard kickoff return to start the second half that began to turn things around for Sacred Heart as the Hearts erased a 21-0 halftime deficit. The Greyhounds and their fans stood in stunned silence watching the bedlam on the other side of the field.
Then Naugatuck head coach Rob Plasky broke the silence.
“It’s not over, there is a lot of game left,” he shouted to his team, taking the field for the ensuing kickoff.
What happened next was just as stunning. Sophomore Nate Franklin fielded the ball at the Naugatuck 28-yard line and headed down the far sideline. Around midfield Franklin saw an opening and darted through it into the clear.
The 72-yard kickoff return put Naugatuck back on top, 34-29, and the ‘Hounds remain undefeated at 4-0.
“It was the best feeling I ever had,” Franklin said. “It was like we just won a championship. I saw an opening and I just ran as fast as I could.”
Naugatuck was playing in its home opener as the defending Naugatuck Valley League champion and controlled the action early. The line of Tim Woodfield, Connor Campbell, Mike Giugno and Kevin Mariano moved the pile up front and Jake Yourison (17 carries, 125 yards) started to move the chains.
Mike Schebell picked up some tough yards before Yourison broke loose for a 22-yard burst through the right side for a 6-0 lead with 9:22 left in the first quarter.
After a Sacred Heart (0-3) punt, Zac Mercer (6-of-12, 155 yards) threw the first of his three touchdown passes, finding tight end Besim Bomova on a fade route into the far corner of the end zone for a 19-yard scoring hook-up. Yourison pounded his way ahead for the two-point conversion and with 4:47 to go in the first quarter the Hounds were on top, 14-0.
Mercer continued to air it out. Mick Pernell (three catches, 109 yards) got a step on a defender and hauled in a pass from Mercer, taking it 80 yards to the house. Kevin Tousignant added the PAT and the Greyhounds were on their way to a 21-0 halftime advantage.
Sacred Heart began to rally as Overbey took the second half kickoff for the score and a two-point conversion pass by Javon Martin made it a 21-8 game.
In response, Mercer directed an eight-play drive and found Pernell on 10-yard pass play to up the margin to 28-8 with 7:19 left in the third quarter.
But the Hearts took advantage of two sideline passes that were behind the line of scrimmage that resulted in fumble recoveries.
Both times the Hearts punched it into the end zone—one on an 18-yard scamper from Jolly Black and the other an 8-yard scoring strike from Martin to Thompson—and the once-comfortable Greyhound lead was down to 28-22 with 7:06 to go in the game.
“We just stopped playing as a team and started to play as individuals,” Mercer said. “We haven’t been taking practice serious enough and it started to show up in the second half of this game with the mistakes we made.”
Naugatuck was intent on running out the clock, behind the power running of Yourison. But the Hearts’ defense stiffened bringing up a third-and-10 around midfield and Mercer dropped back in the pocket looking for Bomova in the flat.
Thompson stepped in front of Bomova and was off to the races on a 52-yard interception return that gave the Hearts a 29-28 lead before Franklin gave Naugy the lead for good.
“We learned a valuable lesson tonight,” Plasky said. “I put the onus on me and my coaching staff. We have to do a better job at practice keeping this team focused. There have been a lot of distractions and because of that we didn’t come out here and play our A-game. Nobody is going to roll over for us. They are coming out with their A-game and we had better do the same.”
The Greyhounds face their toughest Copper Division test so far when they host Torrington on Friday at 7 p.m. The Red Raiders, led by running back Brenden Lytton, scored 80 points in their win over St. Paul last week.