NAUGATUCK — When Jay Mezzo took over as the Greyhounds’ starting quarterback last year as a junior he had his share of help in the form of 18 seniors who rallied around him.
There weren’t a lot of road blocks in the Greyhounds’ 7-0 start in his first year as signal caller, then it was time to find out if Mezzo could lead the team.
The Greyhounds traveled to Seymour in early November last year, and for the first time during the season they trailed not once, but two times in the first half. Each time the junior quarterback led his team back, and Naugatuck took a 21-20 lead into the locker room at the break.
Mezzo was starting to become a leader.
Seymour gained the upper hand again and led 26-21 in the fourth quarter. After the teams traded turnovers, the ball was back in Mezzo’s hands. With 6:16 left to play, Mezzo hit Elijah Robinson for a 24-yard touchdown pass that proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
The comeback win showed Mezzo could lead the Greyhounds and gave the first-year varsity quarterback confidence that he’s carried into his senior year.
“I think the biggest difference from last year to this year is the confidence level,” Mezzo says. “Last year, it took some time to get a hold of everything taking on such a big role. Now that I have a year under my belt, I’m making better reads, making better throws and making better decisions with the ball. That comes with experience and confidence.”
Mezzo showed his leadership skills again, this time on the biggest stage, as he brought Naugy back from 14-0 and 22-8 deficits last Thanksgiving against Ansonia to tie the game at 22-22 in the fourth quarter.
While Ansonia pulled away for a 34-22 win, there hadn’t been that much excitement in this rivalry game since 2010 when the ‘Hounds last won the Naugatuck Valley League title.
By game’s end, Mezzo was 12-for-25 passing for 226 yards and three touchdowns, leaving little doubt he, in fact, had become a leader.
Mezzo finished his junior year with 1,049 yards and 15 touchdowns passing. This year, he enters his final Thanksgiving game as a proven quarterback, with 1,084 yards and 14 touchdowns through the air.
Last year, the Greyhounds and Chargers were both 9-0 when they met in Ansonia. The Chargers are 9-0 again heading into this year’s game in the borough, while Naugatuck stands at 5-4, as injuries to key players contributed to a four-game skid for the Greyhounds after a 5-0 start.
“We’ve had some of the younger guys step up due to the injuries, and guys like Aaron Smith and Connor Maxwell are just warriors on the field,” Mezzo says. “They come to practice and go out there and do their job.”
“Isaiah Williams and Paul Marsh will be a big factors in getting our offense going,” Mezzo adds. “Playing on our own home field will be a good way to go out.”
Despite the team’s recent struggles, Mezzo has no plans of ending his career without a fight.
“Obviously Ansonia is a very well coached and talented team,” Mezzo says. “But it’s Thanksgiving and we are always going to put up a fight.”
That’s what leaders do.
“The odds may not be in our favor this year,” Mezzo says. “But you can be certain that every one of our players are going to give it their all, especially our seniors going out and playing Ansonia for the last time on our home field. I expect we will put up a fight just like we did last year.”