EAST HAVEN — The quarterback had one more touchdown pass left in his right arm.
Jason Bradley heaved a three-quarters-court pass with 7.9 seconds remaining to Jarron Chapman, whose slam dunk sealed No. 7-seeded Naugatuck’s 65-61 win over No. 3 Career before an estimated 1,800 fans Wednesday night in the Class L state boys basketball semifinals.
Naugatuck (21-5) advanced to the state championship game Sunday at 3 p.m. at Mohegan Sun Arena against No. 5 Bunnell (20-4). In the state final for the first time since 1974, the Greyhounds will play for their first state title since 1942.
“We’re going to the ‘ship, man,” Naugatuck coach Mike Wilson said. “We’re going to the ‘ship. That’s all I can think about.”
Naugy never trailed in the game — three ties in the second quarter were the closest Career (24-4) came — but the Greyhounds struggled to put away the Panthers in a testy fourth period.
Career’s Kevin Smith hit a layup with 12 seconds remaining to cut Naugatuck’s lead to 63-61. After the ball dropped through the net, Bradley tossed it to an official in what appeared to be an effort to let a few more seconds tick away.
The referee wasn’t expecting the ball and it rolled away, causing an official timeout to decide how much time should be put on the clock. It also gave Bradley an opportunity to figure out where he would inbound the ball.
“We ran the same out-of-bounds play the previous two times,” Bradley said. “Dayvon (Russell) was supposed to come, curl and get the ball under the hoop. There was the whole controversy with the time, and Dayvon came up to me and said, ‘I’m coming around and I’m going to cut back to the corner.’ Jarron comes up and says, ‘Jay, they haven’t guarded me the last two times. I’m going to fake in. Hit me deep. Let’s end this game right here.’”
Bradley recognized the risk of trying to beat Career’s press with a deep throw — especially with the 7.9 seconds the officials put on the clock — but kept his options open when the official bounced the ball to him.
“At first, I was like, no way they’re going to leave the best player on the court wide open,” Bradley said. “I looked at Dayvon coming with three people behind him, and the next thing I knew Jarron is down the court with no one.”
Bradley, who threw for a school-record 107 touchdowns in his three years as the Greyhounds’ football quarterback, uncorked a spot-on pass to Chapman, who caught the ball in stride at the opposite foul line.
His dunk — which was uncharacteristically his first of the night — made it a four-point game with four ticks left. It also sent the black-clad Greyhounds student section behind that bucket into euphoria.
“When I dunked it, I just felt all the energy come out of me,” said Chapman, who recorded team highs with 25 points and 11 rebounds. “Me and Jay have that chemistry. I gave him the look and he trusts me. He’s going to throw it, and I’m going to go get it. I still can’t stop smiling.”
Wilson said the home-run play — much like the alley-oop that gave Naugatuck all the momentum in its quarterfinal win over Middletown on Monday — isn’t one that gets shown off too much.
“It’s an old-school play that I have in the back pocket, just in case,” Wilson said. “That’s one we haven’t pulled out this year. That’s an old-school college one right there. When you’ve got a kid like Chapman to get into the frontcourt — they were face-guarding us to deny it — I thought he might be open this time.”
Bradley helped give Naugatuck an early cushion with four 3-pointers in the first half, which led to a 16-6 first-quarter lead and a 27-20 edge at the break.
“I took a nap (earlier Wednesday and dreamed) Dayvon dribbled down the court and hit me three plays in a row. I hit a three all three times,” Bradley said. “Ever since that, I wanted the ball in my hand. I set the tone early for us and changed a little bit of how they had to play us.”
Bradley didn’t score again in the second half, but Chapman and Russell netted 31 of their combined 43 after halftime.
Career, which rallied from double-digit deficits in its previous two state tournament wins, nearly pulled off the comeback. Tyreek Perkins scored a game-high 26 points and didn’t allow Naugy to get a stop down the stretch.
In the end, though, the Greyhounds didn’t need a stop. Now, their next stop is Mohegan Sun.
“The way the Naugatuck community comes out and represents is like none other,” Wilson said. “I told these guys, ‘If we have an opportunity to do something special, Naugatuck is going to come out like you guys have never seen before.’ Look at that place. This wasn’t a neutral site tonight. That was Naugatuck’s gym.”