Not that their season wasn’t already going well, but with the Worcester Wildcats back home where they belong at a revamped Foley Stadium, their winning ways have continued. Now 8-1, the team clinched first place in the North Atlantic Conference Saturday, Sept. 22 with a big-time, 28-13, win over New London Nightmare, ensuring themselves of hosting the first playoff game at home. The two squads were tied for first place heading into the contest.
On Saturday, the Wildcats will finish the regular season at home against the 2-7 Rhode Island Riptide.
The team hosts the first playoff game Saturday, Oct. 6, and if they win, the championship a week later on Saturday, Oct. 13.
For head coach Dennis Faulkner, whose team made it to the New England Football League championship in 2015 and lost in the second round of the playoffs last year, it has been an enjoyable ride, made even more so given some of the obstacles.
“The season’s been fantastic so far, you know,” he said. “We’ve had our struggles, of course, like any team would. Your challenges of trying to organize a semi-professional game where, at the end of the day, you still very much prioritize men being men, and being able to take care of their responsibilities at home and at work.
“Playing in a league where you’re not financially compensated ... it’s been a challenge, no doubt, for coaches. Everyone’s just trying to take care of their families and take care of their home life. I get it. As coaches, we’re left trying to piece together everything on our own to hopefully keep winning.”
The wins have kept coming.
The Wildcats started off the season 2-0, with victories over the Nightmare, 28-0, and Riptide, 32-12, before suffering their only loss of the year, 40-21, against the Mass Warriors. Then came five straight wins. They blanked the Green Valley Blackhawks, 30-0, then won two straight over the New Haven Venom, 37-6 and 32-0. The Wildcats exacted a measure of revenge against the Warriors, with a 28-14 win at home, followed by a 43-15 rout of the Vermont Ravens, also at home. Saturday’s win over the Nightmare continued the winning streak.
With this weekend’s matchup with the Riptide, the Wildcats will have played the last four games of the season at home. And they will stay there for at least the first game of the playoffs.
Faulkner is glad to be playing back at Foley Stadium. The team was on the road the first four games of the season, before playing their first “home” game at Leominster’s Doyle Field. Rehab work at Foley Stadium that started earlier this year kept the team from playing there during the first half of the season.
“We were hoping to be able to get (back home) for the second game of the season,” the coach said, “but that quickly changed very early on.”
Improvements at Foley Stadium included turf replacement and a new scoreboard and sound system. They have made a huge difference, according to Faulkner.
“It’s been phenomenal being back,” he said, adding it has been particularly satisfying coaching many players who played their high school games at Foley. “We’ve been very fortunate to be able to stay there.”
Speaking of players, the Wildcats have plenty on both sides of the ball who have made some noise, starting with quarterback Tim Bushey. The Doherty High alum is the leading scorer in the division and, said Faulkner, “has been instrumental in making us the number one offense in our division.” Calling him “poised” and “calm,” Faulkner said Bushey is a great leader whose players are willing to follow him.
“He’s been a great asset for this team, for sure,” the coach said.
Running back Trevor Choruzek, a Leicester High product, has been a force in the backfield, particularly over the first stretch of the season after fellow RB Zander Givens-Perry went out with a separated shoulder. The latter has since returned, and just in time, as Choruzek was injured in the Ravens game and did not play against the Nightmare. Given-Perry returned against the Warriors and racked up two touchdowns. He scored two more against the Ravens, according to Faulkner.
Running back Marcus Price has provided a reliable change of pace on third downs, at times jumping into the slot position.
Down the field, Justin Sundara, an all-star the last three years, has been a playmaker as well as the team’s leading offensive scorer. The Bartlett High grad played for a spell at Worcester State.
“We were fortunate enough to land him with us,” Faulkner said of Sundara, who along with Bushey serves as an offensive captain.
Defensively, another Doherty High product, middle linebacker Al Price, serves as captain.
“He has been an anchor on the defensive side, our shot caller, our guy who’s been able to help coaching in terms of making adjustments,” Faulkner said. “He’s an impactful player on the defensive side.”
Defensive tackle and Southbridge High alum Robert Norris “holds down the fort” at left tackle, Faulkner said, while another local product, Tim Budgell, who played for Worcester Tech, also plays defensive tackle.
As for the Wildcats’ postseason prospects, Faulkner knows the road to the championship is a long one, but feels good about where his team is headed.
“It’s a tough conversation, for sure,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of competition, for sure. I think we’ve got a great team, [a team] that is able to dig deep when the game matters the most. [Coming into the last game] I like our chances.”
The Wildcats host the Riptide Saturday, Sept. 29, 6:30 p.m., at Foley Stadium.