NAUGATUCK – It was more than a football game as it was a lesson in second chances for the Hounds.
Naugatuck defeated Holy Cross, 24-13, to clinch the Naugatuck Valley League Copper Division title and set up an NVL championship game on Thanksgiving Day against Brass Division winner Ansonia.
Two weeks ago that scenario wasn’t possible after Woodland handed Naugatuck its first loss of the season, 25-6, all but locking up the Copper crown. Well, that’s what the media and the rest of the fans in the NVL were led to believe.
Miscommunication among the athletic directors created a tumultuous scene and going into Thursday’s Woodland-Sacred Heart game, nothing was really decided. When the Hearts pulled off the upset, the door opened for Naugatuck to take advantage of its second chance and the Hounds responded, creating the first NVL championship game on Thanksgiving in almost a decade.
“We got a second chance and you have to take full advantage of a situation like that,” said Naugatuck coach Rob Plasky. “You can’t come out here the second time for a division championship and be flat. I really think we are the better team but Woodland came out [last week] and outplayed us. We couldn’t let that happen against Holy Cross.”
On a 2nd-and-7 from the Holy Cross 18-yard line, Marquan Williams took a pitch on a double reverse with his team trailing, 13-10, halfway through the fourth quarter.
As the Crusaders’ defense moved in to stop him in the backfield, Williams leaped over the top of the defender, taking it down for a first-and goal.
“That clip should be sent to ESPN for an ESPY award,” said Plasky. “In all my 17 years of coaching, I never saw a play like that with such determination. Marquan will remember that play for the rest of his life. It truly was a defining moment for that young man.”
That play certainly went a long way towards the final outcome as Erich Broadrick took it in for the go-ahead score at 17-13 on a 1-yard plunge with 5:29 left in the game.
Williams followed that up by intercepting a pass and returning it 25 yards to the Holy Cross 20. After a pair of flags, Broadrick fired a 35-yard pass down the sidelines that Tyler Conklin hauled in the touchdown to open up a 24-13 lead that was plenty for the win.
The Greyhounds got behind the eight-ball right off the bat when the Crusaders’ Zach Brown launched one over the top of the Hounds’ defense for a 78-yard scoring strike to Matt Czapor.
The 6-0 lead was short-lived as Broadrick engineered a four-play, 47-yard scoring drive, which included Andrew Cirino turning the corner and taking it 41 yards down the sideline to set up a first-and-goal.
Two plays later, Broadrick threw a 6-yard touchdown to Iman Farimani and Mick Pernell booted the extra point for a 7-6 Naugatuck advantage with 8:34 left in the first quarter.
Both defenses battled back and forth for the remainder of the first half that saw Reuban Berger and Shawn Freeney come up with interceptions for the Hounds to stall the Crusaders’ attack.
Naugatuck came out in the second half and needed to put points on the board after punting three times and losing the ball on downs to come away empty on four drives in the first half.
Jake Yourison (12 rushes, 89 yards) along with Dashawn Wingate and Jordan Grice began to move the chains for the Hounds. Naugatuck earned a first-and-goal at the Holy Cross 5 but a sack to Broadrick stalled another drive.
Naugatuck was not about to go away empty-handed as Pernell drilled a 25-yard field goal to up the margin to 10-6.
“There were a few players that stepped up given the second chance and delivered for us at crucial times in this game,” Plasky said. “Pernell put an earlier attempt wide but when we needed some point he delivered and that gave us some momentum.”
Holy Cross used another big play over the middle when Brown hooked up with Kairyn Boxton on a 53-yard pass play. That set up a Brandon DiClementi 4-yard touchdown run that gave the Crusaders a 13-10 lead with 4:40 left in the third quarter.
The Greyhounds stalled at the Holy Cross 1-yard line but the defense, led by Jamaal Gee, Conklin and Berger, stepped up to knock enough passes away to force the Crusaders to punt out of the end zone.
That gave the Hounds excellent field position as they moved in for the go-ahead touchdown by Broadrick.
Berger intercepted a Holy Cross desperation pass to put the final touches on the Copper Division win. Next up is Ansonia on Turkey Day to decide the NVL championship and a spot for Naugy in the Class L playoffs.