BY KYLE BRENNAN
A week before his first visit to Woodland as an opposing head coach, Naugatuck football coach Chris Anderson said he hadn’t thought about what it’ll be like to come back to the field where he experienced historic success.
“I haven’t yet because I always take it one week at a time, but I’m sure there will be a lot of emotions and memories,” Anderson said Nov. 3, still eight days away from the Veterans’ Day matchup with the Hawks. “Walking up that hill in November, it’s going to be cold on that visiting side. Looking at the home crowd from afar. It’s going to be different.”
Nobody’s been involved in more editions of the Naugatuck-Woodland rivalry than Anderson. He was the Hawks’ head coach from 2001-07 and 2015, and he was the offensive coordinator for another couple of seasons under Chris Moffo. Now, Anderson is in his second year as Naugatuck’s head coach, with Moffo as his defensive coordinator.
The rivalry started in 2003 with arguably its most memorable game: the Halloween classic in which upstart Woodland upset Naugatuck, 40-37, thanks to a touchdown pass from Jared Katchmar to Pat Krakowski as time expired.
It was the defining moment of the Hawks’ first season in the Naugatuck Valley League.
“We were an upcoming program, a startup program, and we were playing a seasoned Naugatuck football team at Woodland with no scoreboard,” Anderson said. “We didn’t know the score [or] how much time was left. When we scored on the last play, I was like, ‘How much time is left? What’s going on?’ The referee took his hat off [signaling the end of the game], and I turned to [defensive coordinator] Tim Shea, and said, ‘We won!’”
It wasn’t the only memorable meeting between the schools in Beacon Falls. In 2013, Woodland again upset Naugatuck, 25-22, before more than 2,000 fans in the first battle for the George Pinho Trophy. The trophy is named after the Naugatuck alumnus and former Woodland assistant coach who died suddenly in January 2013.
“Really brings a lot of history and tradition into the game,” Anderson said. “Any time a trophy is involved, it adds to a rivalry.”
Woodland coach Joe Lato, who took over the program in the summer of 2021, admitted that his team entered last year’s George Pinho Trophy game without knowing the full story behind the game’s significance. Naugatuck won that game, 35-13, and Lato corrected the oversight this August by inviting Pinho’s sons, Jake and Jack, to talk to the team and share their memories of their father and Woodland’s program.
“I really missed the boat on George Pinho and what he meant to the community,” Lato said. “I wasn’t too aware of him last year, and I made it a point this year to make the kids aware of his values and what he meant to our program and our community.”
Naugatuck is 4-2 against Woodland since the trophy was introduced, and the Hawks haven’t beaten the Greyhounds since 2015. That game also holds significance for Anderson, who remembers fondly Sean McAllen’s 462-yard, six-touchdown performance that night in a 50-24 win. Both of those totals stand as the school’s single-game records.
“That was an important win because that turned our season around,” Anderson said.
Last year, though, Anderson experienced the rivalry from the other side for the first time. He admitted it was an awkward week in which he prepared to coach against not just the program he’d built, but many players he knew personally.
“Looking at it from the Naugatuck perspective, playing against Woodland, for me, it was odd,” Anderson said. “Being able to beat a team like Woodland was a huge victory for our program. You can beat a lot of teams along the way, but if you can beat Woodland, you’ve gotta be doing something right.”
Lato sees the Woodland-Naugatuck rivalry as one that extends even beyond the white lines on Friday night.
“The proximity of the schools, history, familiar faces, all of that,” Lato said. “Some of our kids go and play Naugatuck youth football, and want them to stay here and learn our way. We’re bordering communities. You have to be good for there to be a rivalry.”
And yes, nobody can ignore the coaching matchup, either.
“Coach Anderson created this monster because he made Woodland very good,” Lato said. “Now he’s fighting against the monster he created.”
BY KYLE BRENNAN