Loss propelled Naugy to Thanksgiving win, state championship

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Naugatuck head football coach Craig Peters displays the Class LL state championship trophy following the Greyhounds’ 34-13 victory over Manchester on Dec. 4, 1993 at Southern Connecticut State University. –FILE PHOTO

Editor’s note: This is the third story of a month-long series commemorating anniversaries of significant moments in Woodland and Naugatuck sports history. Our third story looks at the 25-year anniversary of Naugatuck’s Thanksgiving shutout of Ansonia and Class LL state title.

Former Naugatuck All-State tight end and defensive back Scott Mastropietro remembers most of his family’s Thanksgivings being unpleasant days when he was in high school.

“Thanksgivings were not a fun time in my household,” recalled Mastropietro, who suited up for losses against Ansonia from 1990-92.

But that all changed in 1993, when the Greyhounds snapped a six-year losing skid against the Chargers to win the Naugatuck Valley League championship and earn a berth in the Class LL state championship game.

In some ways, there was nothing special about that season’s Naugatuck squad. There were a few All-State players on the roster, sure, but there weren’t any record-breakers or future Division I college standouts.

“We just had a bunch of guys who bought into wanting to do well,” Mastropietro said. “We didn’t have a lot of superstars. We had a lot of guys who wanted to do well. We practiced hard and played hard, put a lot of effort in and it paid off.”

The road to that year’s Thanksgiving victory began a week and a half earlier, when the previously unbeaten Greyhounds suffered a 13-6 loss to eventual Class SS state champion Seymour. It was much less of a win by the Wildcats than it was a loss by Naugatuck, which committed four first-half turnovers and was unable to rally.

Two of those turnovers were fumbles by Kevin Kuzma — one on Naugy’s first play at its own 5-yard line that set up a Seymour touchdown, and another a controversial cough-up at the end of the first half inside the Seymour 1.

Right after that non-league loss, though — it was the teams’ final meeting before Seymour left the Housatonic League and joined the NVL — Naugatuck’s eyes turned to its annual holiday meeting against the Chargers.

“It helped us, believe it or not,” former All-State lineman Jay Segetti said of Naugy’s loss to Seymour. “That probably helped us beat Ansonia.”

For the next week and a half, Naugatuck practiced at a pace that Segetti had never experienced.

“There was nothing like that week and a half of practice,” Segetti recalled. “That Seymour loss kicked everything into high gear. I don’t think anybody slept all week. That’s all we were about.”

Segetti’s most indelible memory of that season came on Thanksgiving eve, when legendary coach Craig Peters wrapped up practice and the Greyhounds engaged in their traditional pre-Thanksgiving bonfire.

“Coach Peters never let us out of practice early,” Segetti said. “It must have been 4 o’clock and he said, ‘I’ve got nothing else to teach you guys. Great week of practice. You’re going to go out there and do what you have to do.’ You could tell the intensity that whole week of practice. There was no doubt.

“The night of the bonfire was probably the most magical,” Segetti recalled. “We went to the bonfire and went to the mirror room. Kevin Kuzma went up there and told us, ‘Not one of you guys ever got down on me (after the Seymour loss).’ That was the last thing that was said before we went onto the field.”

That Thanksgiving belonged to Naugatuck. Mike Perrella ran for touchdowns of 1 and 5 yards, Marlon Fernandez returned a fumble 80 yards for a score, Jason Celozzi recorded three sacks, and the Greyhounds forced three turnovers in the 22-0 victory.

It was the first time Naugy had shut out Ansonia since 1962. The Chargers have been shut out only twice since: by Woodland in 2004 and Northwest Catholic in 2009.

“When we got beat my freshman year (20-14 in 1990), on the ride home, (seeing) those guys — it showed me how much it meant to the town and to the program,” said Mastropietro, who led Naugy with eight solo tackles in the shutout. “My sophomore and junior year, we didn’t fare well. When we shut them out, it was a pretty important thing to us.”

Naugatuck players Scott Mastropietro and Kevin Kuzma rejoice following the Greyhounds’ 34-13 victory over Manchester on Dec. 4, 1993 at Southern Connecticut State University. –FILE PHOTO

The victory sapped any remaining energy from Segetti, who registered five tackles that day.

“I went to my aunt’s house for Thanksgiving, like I always do,” Segetti recalled. “(My family) was like, ‘Jay, what’s the matter?’ I was like, ‘I don’t know. I feel weird.’ I was eating and my face literally went into my dish. I feel asleep.”

Once Segetti and his teammates caught up on some sleep, they prepared to face unbeaten Manchester for the Class LL title at Southern Connecticut State University.

It wasn’t close. Naugatuck crushed Manchester, 34-13, to win the Greyhounds’ first state title since 1981. The ‘Hounds held Manchester to only 123 yards, Joey Edmonds threw three touchdown passes to Brandon Hayward, and Perrella and Todd Speranzini ran for scores.

“I can remember the minute it ended,” Mastropietro said. “I was pumped we’d won the state championship. I was very proud of that and proud of my team. For me, it hit me that it would be the last time I was going to put on a jersey — and more than anything, a Naugatuck football jersey. It was a tough thing. That being the end of the road was hard to swallow.

“We were all proud to wear that jersey,” he continued. “That meant something to us. We worked toward that as kids. Seeing an older kid wearing a high school football jersey, you were in awe. It was about making the town proud.”

Twenty-five years later, Segetti shares that same sort of pride as a coach for Naugatuck Pop Warner. Segetti was on the staff for the squad that won a national championship last fall, and he’s talked with his son, Kyle, and the other ‘Hounds about the value of the brotherhood they’re forming.

“The camaraderie that was on that (1993) team — we were like brothers, and we still kind of are,” Segetti said. “The core group of guys, every time you see them, it’s like you just left the field yesterday.”