NAUGATUCK — In a night of rookies, Naugatuck quarterback Jason Bradley was the ultimate veteran.
Bradley, the Greyhounds junior quarterback, led a fourth-quarter comeback and scored the game-winning touchdown on a 3-yard run in overtime to lead the Greyhounds to a 42-36 victory over Wolcott before close to 2,000 fans in coach Craig Bruno’s home debut at the new Veterans Field turf.
“It was the greatest football game I’ve played in my life,” said Bradley, who accounted for nearly 300 total yards in a back-and-forth affair. “So many people made big plays on both sides. It was unbelievable.”
Wolcott scored what could have been the game-winning touchdown with a minute and a half to play in regulation, but Naugy’s Ryne Griesenauer blocked Joe Keeley’s PAT attempt to keep the game tied at 36.
“I told my boys to get in there and cause pressure, and that I would get the block,” the 6-foot-5 Griesenauer said. “Big players step up in big moments and I knew I had to do it.”
The teams traded interceptions at the end of the fourth quarter, after which Naugatuck (2-0) won the coin toss and chose to start the Kansas tiebreaker on defense.
Although the ‘Hounds had little success stopping Wolcott (1-1) in the second half, they stopped Vincent Gambino and the Eagles offense on four straight plays, including an incompletion on fourth-and-goal from the 5-yard line.
“I knew after the first play that we were going to stop them,” Bradley said of his defense. “Once we got the stop, there was no way we were not getting into the end zone.”
Tom Douty gained 2 yards on Naugy’s first play in overtime before Bradley picked up 5 on a keeper. He called his own number again on third down and converted, following center PJ Murphy into the end zone for the game-winning score.
“We have Jason Bradley,” Bruno said of the difference in the game. “He’s so tough and he knows what to do on every play.”
Naugatuck led 16-3 late in the first half when Gambino found Adam Santopietro with a 19-yard touchdown pass to cut the deficit to 16-10 at the break.
From there, the seesaw battle started. Wolcott scored on its first drive after halftime on a 3-yard hookup between Gambino and Jay Pelletier to take a 17-16, only to have Naugy’s Bryan Coney score on the ensuing drive when he recovered a fumble in the end zone to make it a 22-17 lead.
The Eagles followed with Gambino’s third touchdown pass, an 11-yarder to Jayson Matos. But they questionably attempted a two-point conversion and failed — a kick by Keeley, who hadn’t missed to that point, could have made a difference at game’s end.
Gambino, who totaled 333 yards and five touchdowns by himself, established himself with a remarkable 50-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter when he hurdled a defender at the line of scrimmage and took off to make it 30-22 Wolcott.
“Vince is an extremely gifted athlete and a great quarterback,” Bradley said. “The fact that we put this show on here tonight is unbelievable. They made play after play.”
Naugy rallied. Griesenauer caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Bradley to make it 30-28, and after Wolcott failed on a questionable fourth-and-3 at its own 34, Douty scored from 8 yards out to give Naugy a 36-30 lead.
Santopietro’s 9-yard touchdown reception on the ensuing drive tied the game with 1:30 to play, but the blocked PAT sent the game to overtime.
“This feels better than any win in a long time,” said Bruno, who earned his first home win as the Greyhounds’ head coach. “I’m new here and I feel like I have to prove myself to these fans. I hope they can see the effort I put in and the kids put in.”
Naugatuck is back in action Thursday against Sacred Heart for a 6 p.m. home start before a huge game Oct. 4 at Woodland.