By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News
Neither Naugatuck’s nor Woodland’s football coaching staff knew what to expect in Week 1 of the season Sept. 10. But both squads earned victories to start the year, and that was OK with the first-year head coaches.
Naugatuck’s Chris Anderson, whose team earned a 22-0 win at Oxford, admitted that he had no expectations for the Greyhounds’ opener after a limited preseason.
“I really didn’t know what to think,” Anderson said. “It’s hard because you’re going against yourself every single day. Scrimmages are so limited these days because everyone has low numbers and you’re so worried about injuries, so it’s hard to get a good look.”
He did get a good look at Naugy’s defense, which pitched a shutout and held the young Wolverines to just 41 yards of total offense.
“I thought defensively we ran hard to the ball, took good angles, and tackled well,” Anderson said. “I thought we did good things in special teams and we covered kicks.”
“Getting the shutout was huge for us,” junior Michael Deitelbaum told the Republican-American after the game. “Our defensive coordinator, coach (Chris) Moffo, kept preaching to us to fly to the ball. We had a good week of practice and did just that. This was a good start, but we are going to get better.”
The Hounds also ran effectively with Cayden Martin (87 yards, touchdown), Jett Hall (86 yards, touchdown), and Deitelbaum (67 yards) leading the way.
Jibree Bartelle tossed a 26-yard touchdown pass to Aiden Robertson. He threw off his back foot to escape a tackler, and Robertson leapt to make a great catch for the score.
“I had to pull up and throw it and hope,” Bartelle told the Republican-American. “Aiden took it from them and made a great play like he normally does.”
Anderson said Naugy’s focus over its next few games will be sharpening the mental aspects of the game.
“No. 1 is our football IQ,” Anderson said. “I feel like we really started from scratch. We’re teaching the most basic things, like getting into a stance, let alone the intricacies of offensive and defensive operations. That’s been a slower process than I’d like, but I think we’ll continue to get better as the season goes on.”
Naugatuck is set to play Torrington on Sept. 17 and then has St. Paul on Oct. 1.
Woodland also posted a victory in Joe Lato’s debut as the Hawks’ head coach. They outlasted Crosby, 38-27, in a game that was a little too close for comfort.
The Bulldogs erased an early Woodland lead, but Lato was impressed with the way his team responded to pull away in the fourth quarter.
“When we lost all momentum, we got it back and we fought to the end,” Lato said. “We showed a lot of grit in the fourth quarter. We gave away the lead, but we came right back and went right down the field.”
Lato praised several players in particular.
“Ben Brooks (two rushing touchdowns) showed a lot of heart and courage with some fantastic plays in the fourth quarter,” Lato said. “Nate Bodnar (three total touchdowns) showed how dynamic he is with 160 rushing yards and some big catches. Darren Gasparri managed the game and made some great throws. Josh Gibson impressed me with his ability to rush the quarterback and track down ball carriers.”
There were also plenty of unknowns for Woodland entering the season. The Hawks dealt with preseason injuries and a minor COVID-19 outbreak that sidelined several players.
“After the couple of weeks we had leading up to (the opener), I was very pleased,” Lato said. “We really didn’t have a full team going into that week of practice. We tried to structure the game plan around what the kids were comfortable with. All in all, the kids did a great job.”
Woodland is set to begin a three-game homestand Sept. 17 against Derby, followed by dates against Kennedy and Torrington. Lato said the team’s focus will simply be not beating itself.
“We are working on ball security,” Lato said. “We need to do a better of job of not inflicting wounds on ourselves. We need to simplify things moving forward. The roster is almost back up to full speed, so hopefully we’ll get there.”