Here’s something Woodland football fans don’t need to be reminded of: The last time the Hawks beat Seymour, the Red Sox had just won their first World Series of the century, George W. Bush wasn’t even through his first term as president, and the high school hadn’t yet been standing for four years.
It’s been a while. This year, though, feelings are different in the Woods and around the valley. For the first time since 2005, the Hawks (6-3) will be the favorite against Seymour (1-8) when they hit DeBarber Field on Wednesday night. However, the toughest thing for Woodland might not be physically besting the Wildcats but getting past the mental block of losing its last five to its rival.
“I think a big part of it is making sure the guys know they can win,” Woodland head coach Tim Shea said. “I don’t know [if it’s been any one thing in the past]. Some years, kids have been hurt and some years the extra game took a little out of us. But on Thanksgiving, you throw the records out the window. The games have always been tight; they’ve just found a way to win.”
Throwing out the records in this game might be the most important way for Woodland to avoid a season-deflating upset. The Wildcats are 1-8—in fact, this is the first time in series history that Seymour is even under .500 entering the matchup—and have been severely bitten by the injury bug and inexperience.
The Cats have, though, played better in recent weeks. After opening the season 0-6, Seymour beat Crosby, 41-26, before narrowly losing to Brass Division champion Wolcott and rallying in the second half of a loss to Ansonia. Shea knows Seymour is a quality opponent and his squad will need to play a fundamentally sound game to win.
“I’m sure Coach [Tom] Lennon has told them the same thing we have—that records don’t matter,” Shea said. “They’re a solid team, and we have to execute. We can’t turn the ball over, we have to capitalize on field position, and we can’t allow any big plays.”
Senior tri-captain Brandon Fowler is drinking the same Kool-Aid as Shea, as he also knows Seymour is a lot better than its 1-8 record shows.
“Their record isn’t a good representation of who they are,” Fowler explained. “Especially on Thanksgiving, records don’t matter. Everyone’s head has to be in the game for us to win.”
The game plan for the Hawks figures to be the same as it has been all season—pound the rock. Woodland features four backs with at least 230 rushing yards, including Naugatuck Valley League-leading junior Jack DeBiase (1,124 yards, 17 TDs), Fowler (350 yards, five TDs), senior Tyler Slapikas (341 yards, three TDs), and junior Chris D’Occhio (231 yards, five TDs).
The Black and Gold will also rely on a defense that gave up 163 points—fourth best in the league—during the season to slow a Cats offense that has finally picked up some momentum. Senior quarterback Connor Shugrue is back from injury and has thrown for four scores and rushed for four more, and senior Jacob Drozd leads the team in rushing, after being thrust into the position after injuries hit the squad.
As for motivation, it’s not only the fact that the Hawks can finish 7-3 and beat Seymour for the first time since 2004. Woodland takes it a step further.
“Coach Shea said it all week that we can be the second team to beat Seymour,” Fowler said. “It’s our last game as seniors at Woodland, and we can do something special. The history behind [being able to beat Seymour] and end up 7-3 is something we want.”