NAUGATUCK — This year’s Thanksgiving matchup between Naugatuck and Ansonia has all the makings of a classic with a Naugatuck Valley League title and positioning in the state playoffs at stake.
The Greyhounds and Chargers both enter the Thanksgiving game 9-0. Naugatuck (Class L) and Ansonia (Class S) have already clinched playoff berths, and the game will be the 17th between the longtime rivals to decide the NVL title. Kickoff is set for 10 a.m. at Ansonia High School.
“In order to be competitive with a team like Ansonia you need to be very good at all three phases of the game: offense, defense and special teams,” Naugatuck head coach Dave Sollazzo said. “They are probably the best at all three phases, and if you are looking to compete with them you better be at your best in all three phases as well.”
Sollazzo and his coaching staff have assembled a team that’s pretty good in all three phases itself.
The defense has six shutouts to its credit and has given up an average of just 5 points per game this season.
The special teams has blocked seven blocked punts, returning four for touchdowns, and Elijah Robinson has four kickoff returns for touchdowns.
The Greyhounds are averaging 44.4 points per game behind an offense led by first-year, junior quarterback Jay Mezzo and a stable of playmakers.
Ansonia is good, very good, as well. The Chargers haven’t dominated this series for last 25 years or so by accident.
Ansonia is a ground-and-pound team. Led by junior Shykeem Harmon, who has rushed for 1,372 yards and 12 touchdowns, the Chargers have piled up a little over 300 yards per game rushing and are averaging nearly 44 points per game.
The Chargers’ defense has allowed just eight touchdowns all season. They will need to bring that kind of intensity to slow down a Greyhounds’ team that has a lot of weapons to choose from.
Mezzo is 33-for-67 passing for 686 yards and 12 touchdowns. Senior Zach Koslosky (8 catches, 184 yards, 4 touchdowns) is his favorite target. Junior Paul Marsh (2 touchdowns), Robinson and Isaiah Williams are also viable targets.
Junior Malachi Gatison has 481 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns on the ground. He leads a stable of backs that can move the chains. Senior Nick Airall (437 yards, 7 touchdowns) is just as effective along with senior Doreon Chapman.
While the Chargers lean on the run, the Greyhounds will also have to contend with Ansonia junior quarterback Sheldon Schuler, who has thrown for 462 yards and 10 touchdowns. Sophomore wide receiver Jalen Johnson (16 receptions, 206 yards, 3 touchdowns) provides the deep threat for Ansonia.
Aside from keeping teams out of the end zone, the Naugatuck defense has shown a penchant for taking the ball away. The Greyhounds have six interceptions and seven fumble recoveries and have scored six defensive touchdowns this season.
Both teams entered last season’s Thanksgiving game undefeated, and it was Ansonia that walked off Veterans Field in Naugatuck with a 46-28 win.
“I think the biggest difference between last year and this year is our senior leadership,” Sollazzo said. “We have 18 seniors and their leadership has been the biggest influence. This is their time to shine.”
Sollazzo knows the Greyhounds will have their hands full on Thanksgiving morning.
“I think our biggest challenge going down there will be every snap of the ball,” he said. “Every single play will be a challenge. The thing about Ansonia is they are consistent and have been for a very long time.”
“We are facing a big mountain to climb,” he added. “We will need to be ready to play every single down and be consistent in all three phases of the game in order to be successful.”
Thanksgiving will be the 119th meeting between the Valley football rivals. Ansonia leads the series 71-37-10.
This rivalry — one of the oldest in the country — has seen its days of glory over the years, and this year’s game is shaping up to fit the bill.