NAUGATUCK >> Alijah Ellis is a sprint specialist for Derby’s track and field team. And on Friday night, with Naugatuck’s football team 14 yards away from possibly tying this wild, back-and-forth game on the final play, the junior amped his track game to a whole new level.
Even though he didn’t have to.
Ellis jumped Naguatuck quarterback Mike Plasky’s pass at the goal line, and bolted 100 yards the other way to but the exclamation point on Derby’s 46-32 NVL victory at Veterans Field.
“I knew we were going to stop them and they weren’t going to score,” said Ellis, still trying to catch his breath from his glorious, game-clinching sprint. “We had this game. It was a good game but I knew we were going to come up with the big stop.
“I just read the QB’s eyes. I read them and I picked the ball off and I took it to the house.”
Derby improved to 3-2 and, in the process, snapped a two-game losing streak.
“I thought he was going to go down and slide but he wanted the touchdown,” senior Ricky Bartone said. “He got it so that’s good. That was awesome. I loved it.”
Over on the Derby sideline, coach George French almost collapsed from the drama of the entire game. It was only when Ellis scored the cosmetic touchdown to end it that the coach could finally celebrate his team’s third victory of the season.
“I was yelling at Alijah, ‘Just go down! I’m done with this!” George said. “But he kept running.”
Things didn’t look so rosy seconds earlier. Ahead 40-32 thanks to senior back Ricky Bartone’s third touchdown of the game, Derby had a chance to run out the clock on the victory. The Raiders got as far as the Naugatuck 10 but were stopped a yard short on fourth down with 59 seconds left.
That was plenty of time for Plasky and Naugatuck to work some 90-yard magic. And they almost did.
With no timeouts remaining, Plasky completed 5 of 7 passes — the big one was a 37-yard strike to Antoine Sistrunk that brought the Hounds to midfield — and suddenly Naugatuck was parked at the Derby 14 with eight seconds left.
“It was agonizing, to be honest with you,” George said. “That iso play had been working for us the whole night and it was one cut too much and they got us on it. You knew (Plasky) can move that football and someone makes the wrong play on the ball and the next thing you know they’re at midfield and it’s brutal.
“But we made the play in the end.”
— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) October 9, 2015
A pass over the middle fell incomplete and a pass interference call was waved off, giving Naugatuck one more shot with four seconds left. Plasky rolled to his right and fired a pass intended for Jalen Datil at the goal line, but Ellis picked it off and ran for paydirt.
“It was great,” George said. “(Plasky) was killing us on the short routs early. He was up and down, dinking and dunking and he was killing us. Finally, one of our kids reacted, caught what they were doing and made a play.”
Behind a huge night from Ricky Bartone, who ran 41 times for 265 yards and three touchdowns, Derby held serve for most of the evening. Derby led 12-0 and had a 26-16 lead at halftime.
“We figured (the wildcat) would work against their scheme and it did,” Bartone said. “We got it done. Our line played unbelievable. They were blowing them off the ball all night.”
But Naugatuck rallied to within 26-24 with a similar 99-yard interception return touchdown by Etty Ilunga early in the third quarter.
Bartone added his second touchdown from 16 yards out to make it 32-24. But Plasky hit Ilunga with an 76-yard touchdown pass and Datil’s 2-point conversion reception tied the game at 32 after three.
Derby, which ran Bartone out of the wildcat all night and shifted regular starter Jake Finnucan to receiver, methodically marched down the field and took the 40-32 lead on his 1-yard run.
“We needed someone to step up,” George said of Bartone, a three-year starter. “So we told hm the ball is in your court. It’s your senior year and the last two games we’d been going down hill. We needed a pick-me-up so I asked him to lead us and that’s what he did.”
Derby 46, Naugatuck 32
Derby 12 14 8 14 — 46
Naugatuck 0 16 16 0 — 32
D—Ricky Bartone 1 run (kick failed)
D—Bartone 47 pass from Jake Finnucan (pass failed)
N—Tyler Deitelbaum 10 pass from Mike Plasky (Deitelbaum run)
D—Alexis Perez 30 pass from Finnucan (Finnucan run)
N—Deitelbaum 8 pass from Plasky (Deitelbaum run)
D—Alijah Ellis 65 run (run failed)
N—Etty Ilunga 99 interception return (Deitelbaum run)
D—Bartone 16 run (kick failed)
N—Ilunga 76 pass from Plasky (Jalen Datil pass from Plasky)
D—Bartone 1 run (Finnucan run)
D—Ellis 99 interception return (no attempt)
Team records: Derby 3-2, Naugatuck 2-3.