DARIEN — The Naugatuck Greyhounds put together a nine-win season for the second year in a row under head coach Craig Bruno and became the sixth football team in school history to reach the state playoffs.
The journey came to an end Saturday in the Class L Large semifinals as the Greyhounds came up on the short end of a 42-12 final margin to Darien.
“We had a great ride this season,” Bruno said. “Making the state playoffs was a tremendous accomplishment for this team, especially our seniors who are a great group of kids.”
The No. 4-seeded Greyhounds (9-3) entered the playoffs with an offense that put 40 points on the board on a regular basis throughout the season. The No. 1-seeded Blue Wave (12-0) lived off a defense that surrendered just 12 point per game with 49 sacks and 18 interceptions on the year.
Naugatuck was very much in the game trailing 7-0 after the first quarter before Darien exploded for 28 points in the second quarter and pulled away to 35-0 lead at the half.
“Darien is an awesome team and we just came up short. It was a big challenge for us as they are a very big physical team. It certainly wasn’t the way we wanted to end the season but putting back-to-back nine wins seasons together shows the hard work that these kids put into the program.”
The Blue Wave got into scoring position on the second play from scrimmage thanks to a 55-yard run by Peter Archey. Archey punched it in from 3 yards out to put Darien up 7-0.
Naugatuck sought to answer the score after a 42-yard pass from Jason Bradley to Bryan Coney set the Greyhounds up in Darien territory. But the drive stalled as the Blue Wave defense stiffened.
The offensive struggles began to mount for Naugy as the Greyhounds turned the ball over three times and Bradley (7-of-19, 106 yards, two interceptions) was sacked on three occasions.
Darien gave the Naugatuck defense a real test. Archey carryed 14 times for 118 yards and Shelby Grant added 101 yards on 14 carries. Quarterback Tim Graham (14-of-26, 221 yards, two touchdowns) sparked the Blue Wave offense.
A fake punt set Darien up at the Naugatuck 12 and opened the door for the Blue Wave’s second touchdown. Archey capped the drive after picking up a fumbled snap and scoring from 3 yards out. The bounces kept going Darien’s way when Hudson Hamill turned a potential C.J. Wall interception into a 23-yard touchdown pass to open up a 21-0 lead.
Naugatuck got on the board late with Antoine Sistrunk (18 carries, 72 yards) pounding it in from 14 yards out. Tyler Deitlebaum threw a 40-yard touchdown to Josh McFarland to complete the Greyhounds scoring.
Naugatuck will have a lot of shoes to fill next season. Bradley leaves as the number one quarterback in school history with 107 career touchdowns and 6,945 yards. Coney leaves as the best receiver in school history with 78 catches, 1,815 yards and 33 touchdowns.
“Losing the seniors is always tough on a team,” Bruno said. “But it’s not only trying to find replacements for those positions, it’s losing that leadership that hurts the most.”
Senior linemen Jack Reardon, Will Paul, David Kloc Aaron Yourison, P.J. Murphy and Socrates Ilunga will leave a hole in the trenches to be filled. The receiving corps will also lose seniors Chris Quarles and Maleek Brooks.
With the losses comes an opportunity for the younger Greyhounds to step up next season.
Junior lineman Logan Bond, William Chockey, Paul Cavagnoulo and sophomore Ben Rossi have the experience to fill the gap at the line of scrimmage. Junior Etty Ilunga along with sophomores Jalen Datil, Tyler Deitlebaum, Devon Biancarelli and Josh MacFarland will be the new keys on offense. But it will all start with junior Antoine Sistrunk, who established himself with 1,155 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns on the ground this season.
“We had a great group of seniors this year and a lot of starters on both sides of the ball,” Bruno said. “There are a lot of opportunities coming up next season and we will try and get them ready to keep this momentum going.”