MERIDEN — Despite the weather being 35 degrees and brutally windy, the Wilcox-Kaynor Tech football team had a positive energy at practice Tuesday afternoon.
Everyone was talkative; everyone was ready to work.
It looked like the Indians had already put Friday’s 54-6 loss to Platt Tech in the rearview mirror.
Maybe it’s because the winless Indians are looking at their best opportunity for a victory this season, and it comes in the regular-season finale, not a moment too soon. Their Thanksgiving Eve matchup at Pat Kidney Field in Middletown against 0-9 VG Techs, the co-op of Vinal Tech and Goodwin Tech, is by far the most winnable of the season.
“They know they got a shot,” Wilcox-Kaynor head coach Trevor Jones said Tuesday, pointing over at his team, which was huddled on the sideline keeping its energy up before practice.
The players were jumping around chanting each other’s names. They were supposed to be carrying practice equipment to the field, but practice hadn’t started yet. What’s the harm in letting them goof off a little?
After running up nine straight losses, the Indians know what’s at stake for Wednesday’s game.
“Let’s be honest, it’s two 0-9 teams playing against each other,” Jones said. “The doormats of the league play tomorrow night. I’ve been telling the kids that for three, four days. Somebody’s getting their first win tomorrow night, and if you think it’s gonna be easy, you’re out of your mind. It’s gonna be a dogfight.”
This season has been a nightmare for the Indians. Injuries have plagued them since Week 1. They haven’t scored more than 18 points in a single game. They allow an average 40 points per game. They have allowed less than 30 points only twice.
But as Wilcox-Kaynor playes practiced in preparation for Wednesday night, they saw a sight for very sore eyes. Their last five games were against teams who hold a record of .500 or better, including 9-1 Cheney Tech on Oct. 16 and the 8-1 Thames River Co-op on Nov. 13.
Oddly enough, those games, against teams that currently rank No. 6 and No. 7 in the Class L playoff points, are by far the closest games Wilcox-Kaynor has played in all year. The Tribe lost those games by 17 and 16 points, respectively.
Despite the recent stretch of difficult games, Jones has optimism going into Wednesday night because, ironically, of how depleted his roster has been. In Friday’s game against Platt Tech, Jones was down starting offensive linemen, starting linebackers and his starting slot receiver, Antonio Mejil.
And yet, silver linings.
“We’ve played really well the last month, since Cheney,” Jones said. “Last week I was down players left and right, but we’ve played well against the best teams. All the young kids we’re playing, which are a lot of freshmen and sophomores, the progression has really started taking place since the Cheney game.”
Having a replenished set of weapons should open up the offense even more for sophomore quarterback Caden Kennedy (68-for-133, 772 yards).
Mejil has 21 receptions for 320 yards. Fellow junior Brandon Alvarado, who was an even greater source of offense during Mejil’s absence, has 24 catches for 373 yards.
Alvarado was Kennedy’s immediate go-to Friday night against Platt Tech. If Alvarado was open, you could bet on where the ball was going.
“(Brandon’s) one of our main guys we get the ball to on every play, and most of the plays that we ran last week were to him,” Kennedy said.
“If (Brandon’s) uncovered, Caden checks right away,” Jones said. “He can override that anytime. (Caden) can look out there and if there’s nobody on Brandon, he just checks it right there on the line. He did that Friday night three, four times.”
Jones has praised Kennedy’s field vision during the quarterback’s progression in his first year as a varsity starter. Having him surrounded with Wilcox-Kaynor’s best athletes puts the offense in the best position it’s been in all year long.
Junior Raysean Emrie leads the ground game with 341 rushing yards. Alvarado has 177.
Meanwhile, the Vinal-Goodwin offense has been practically nonexistent this season, having scored no more than 12 points in a single contest and being shut out five times. Defensively, VG Techs gives up 42 points per game — only marginally worse than the Indians, but small victories matter.
The ending of the 2021 season for Wednesday’s victorious team will be their own version of a storybook. Wilcox-Kaynor has the opportunity to win its first game as a co-op. So does Vinal-Goodwin, together on their own after losing former partner Whitney Tech.
No matter the outcome, both teams will finish the season a combined 1-19.
On the night before the taste of turkey, one of these teams will taste victory for the first time this year. That’s a much better taste to have during the long offseason than defeat.