NAUGATUCK — Naugatuck’s point-after kicking team was trotting on the field for a game-winning kick after Brandon Kuczenski’s sensational grab of a 23-yard touchdown pass that tied last Saturday’s game against Holy Cross with just two minutes to play.
But kicker Josh Aviles had to turn around before he got the chance to give his team the lead. A late flag for an illegal man downfield negated the game-tying touchdown and put the end zone out of reach for the Greyhounds, who turned it over on downs and lost to the Crusaders 27-21 in a huge Naugatuck Valley League Copper Division game.
Though disappointed, Naugatuck coach Shawn Kuczenski had no argument with the penalty.
“Our receivers switched spots, our slot and X, and our X didn’t line up right,” he said. “Had they lined up in their normal spots, we would have been fine.”
Naugatuck (4-2, 3-1 NVL Copper) mounted its longest drive of the game on the final drive after Holy Cross (4-2, 2-1) quarterback Kristian Harmeling scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 53-yard run up the middle with 4:19 to play.
Back-to-back first-down-gaining passes from Jason Bradley to Brandon Kuczenski and Mick Pernell moved the Greyhounds into Crusader territory before two more Pernell touches got Naugy to the Holy Cross 23 with 2 ½ minutes to play.
On the next play, Bradley lofted a pass hauled in by Kuczenski just inside the front left pylon just as safety Maurice Fabiani closed and laid a crushing hit. Kuczenski held on and it looked like Naugy had tied the game before the penalty backed up the ‘Hounds to the 28.
Cross defensive end Gerron Pendarvis took advantage of the second chance. On second down, he and Myles Pompei-Grove combined to sack Bradley at the Holy Cross 37 before Pendarvis hit Bradley on third down to force an incompletion. Bradley’s fourth-down pass also fell incomplete and allowed the Crusaders to knee out the clock.
“I try to time the snap and move as fast as I can after the ball,” Pendarvis said. “I just kept pushing. Coach always tells us to bend and not break. We kept that motto today.”
Cross only bent a little, allowing two touchdowns on the day and holding Pernell to a season-low 89 total yards. Pernell scored one offensive touchdown, a 10-yarder on a misdirection run to give Naugy a 7-6 lead early in the second quarter, and also returned an interception of Harmeling 40 yards for a touchdown to increase the lead to 14-6.
“They had a good defensive game plan,” Shawn Kuczenski said. “They controlled Mick and we needed more guys to step up. We didn’t have enough guys to step up and their line beat up on our line.”
“Their line played good contain on the outside,” Pernell said. “They had good pressure and played great defense today.”
Both teams recorded four sacks but Holy Cross came up big in crucial situations. The Crusaders were 8-of-12 on third-down conversions and scored their first two touchdowns on fourth-down plays.
“We had some mental breakdowns,” Pernell said. “We weren’t in right formations, didn’t get some plays. It was stupid stuff that shouldn’t have happened.”
Naugy took a 21-12 lead early in the third on a 31-yard pass from Bradley to Mike D’Agnone but Wright cut it back to a one-possession game later in the quarter on a 13-yard run.
Harmeling’s game-winning run came on a third-and-1 at the Cross 47 with about 4 ½ minutes left. He jetted through a gash opened by center George Smith in the center of the line and lumbered 53 yards to give Holy Cross a 25-21 lead. A two-point conversion made it 27-21.
“Sometimes you need to pull something out,” Holy Cross coach Mike Giampetruzzi said. “We felt like they were keying on Adrian and Isaiah a lot so we wanted to try something else.”
“We just didn’t tackle,” Shawn Kuczenski said of his team’s defense. “We were there, it wasn’t anything they did special. We were hitting them but just not wrapping.”
Holy Cross’ win took Naugy out of control in the Copper. The Greyhounds need to beat Woodland on Friday at home and get some help to stay alive.
“I told them our season’s not over,” Shawn Kuczenski said. “If we beat Woodland and Kennedy and get some help, we’ll still be playing for a title.”