Seymour owned the first six years of the rivalry, but has the series momentum shifted to Back Rimmon Road?
The newest Thanksgiving rivalry in the Valley, but it’s already given us some of the best games of the last seven years. Seymour has dominated the series thus far, taking six of eight games, including a 2007 Class SS semifinal, but the tide is changing. The Hawks blasted the Wildcats, 55-32, last season, and have everything to gain this year.
While the Naugatuck-Ansonia classic features its most evenly matched teams in a decade, the Woodland-Seymour game is set up to perhaps be the most lopsided game in series history. Seymour, at 0-9, has yet to win a game and is in the midst of a stretch where it has lost 18 of its last 19 games. It’s hard to believe that the ‘Cats have fallen this far in just a few years after they were perennial league and state title contenders for most of the last decade. Seymour’s closest game was a seven-point loss Oct. 8 to Derby. The Wildcats have played better in recent weeks (with the exception of their 55-21 loss to Ansonia Nov. 10) after suffering blowout losses in four of their first five games.
Woodland, at 6-3, is once again contending for a Class SS playoff berth, needing a win in this game and a little bit of help from some others to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2007. In fact, if the Hawks qualify, it will be the fifth time in eight years that either Woodland or Seymour has made the playoffs. This game would be for seeding had the Hawks not been upset by Sacred Heart Nov. 11 at Municipal Stadium. That loss to the Hearts broke a five-game winning streak for Woodland and also took away the Naugatuck Valley League Copper Division title and a chance to play for the NVL title. That may work out for the Hawks, though, as they should be rested for this game and a potential playoff run.
Seymour hasn’t had the luxury of its usually strong rushing game, gaining just 1,197 yards and seven touchdowns on the season. The Wildcats are led by junior running back Jon Wilson, who has 117 carries for 460 yards and two TDs, while junior quarterback Luke Grabowski has made his mark on the ground with 410 yards and three TDs on 79 attempts. Grabowski averages over five yards per rush.
Woodland modified its patented wing-T formation this season to compensate for the lack of a true quarterback for the first time in team history. Senior quarterback Jack DeBiase, who led the team in rushing and was an all-NVL and all-state running back in 2009, touches the ball every time out of the shotgun and has rushed for 1,262 yards and 12 touchdowns on 181 carries. It’s not all DeBiase, though—senior running back Craig Genz has racked up 550 yards and four TDs on 86 attempts while junior running back Matt Zaccagnini has rushed 59 times for 325 yards and five touchdowns. The Hawks average 6.31 yards per rush and have doubled Seymour’s production, accumulating 2,220 yards and 22 TD.
The passing game is Seymour’s strongest point, as Grabowski has completed 78 of 169 passes for 1,117 yards and eight touchdowns. His leading receiver is senior Michael Fraser, who has caught 23 balls for 476 yards and six TDs. Fraser has been banged up in recent weeks, though, and may not be able to play. If that’s the case, other targets will have to emerge, including Wilson, seniors Jimmy Farrell and Damien Granda, and sophomore Mike Conlan. Grabowski is prone to mistakes, though, as he’s thrown eight picks.
Woodland wasn’t expected to ball the ball much or effectively, but DeBiase has showed off his arm when he’s been called upon, especially in the latter half of the season. DeBiase has thrown for 806 yards and nine touchdowns on 60-of-130 passing with five interceptions. In the Hawks’ last game against Sacred Heart, he completed 14 of 27 passes for 207 yards and a pair of TDs. He also has a trio of solid receivers to work with, including seniors Jake Pinho and Ian Bures and sophomore Rahmi Rountree.
Defense and Line Play
Defense has been a major weakness for Seymour. The Wildcats have been outscored, 344-124, in their nine losses and it won’t get any easier for them as they face a Woodland offense that has scored at least 25 points in its last four games and done it six times this season. Seymour doesn’t get much pressure on opposing quarterbacks, forcing just three sacks and five interceptions.
Woodland has featured the best defense in the league throughout the season but that unit hit a roadblock when it gave up 22 points to Sacred Heart (eight others came on an interception-return touchdown). Still, the Hawks can stop the run and the pass and have forced 15 turnovers on the season. In addition, Woodland’s young line has improved throughout the season, led on offense by junior Tom Gendreau and on defense by senior Jeff Holder.
Seymour has received a lot of kickoffs this season with the number of touchdowns it has given up, but its returners don’t always give the team great field position or make game-changing plays. The longest kick return on the season for the ‘Cats is 40 yards.
The Hawks have always featured one of the best return games in the league and do again this year. Senior Chris Williams made one of the biggest plays of Woodland’s season with a long kickoff return in the Naugatuck game to help set up a touchdown. Pinho is also an explosive returner. The Hawks have struggled mightily with kicking PATs recently.
Seymour’s Tom Lennon is highly regarded in the NVL, but his overall record of 1-18 as a head coach doesn’t look good, especially after replacing the legendary Paul Sponheimer.
Woodland’s Tim Shea has put together a pair of very good seasons after posting a sub-.500 record in his first year at the helm. The Hawks’ coaching staff includes several former players who bring a great deal of intensity to the sideline.
As evidenced by the numerous advantages Woodland has, it’s the Hawks’ game to lose. They need this one for a playoff berth and are looking for their first-ever back-to-back wins over Seymour. They should get it, but never underestimate the power of a rivalry.