CHESHIRE — From the moment they met each other playing pee wee football, Cheshire’s seniors have been waiting for this season all of their lives.
So there was nothing that was going to shake the Rams’ confidence when they faced perennial SCC powerhouse and 10th-ranked Shelton in the 2017 season opener at the Maclary Complex.
It just took a little time before Cheshire and vaunted senior class just got down to business and proved they will indeed be a team to beat in the SCC.
Down by three points at halftime, Cheshire’s defense pitched a shutout in the second half while quarterback Jack Raba and the offense pulled away late in a 28-10 victory Friday night.
“In the first half we came out with a little bit of jitters,” said senior receiver and defensive back Michael Jeffery, who caught two touchdown passes from Raba. “But in the second half you saw what kind of experience we have. We have so many seniors playing, we have so many guys that have played in games like these that we were able to turn it out.”
Cheshire’s offense — which mostly had sputtered in the first half — scored 21 unanswered points to put this one away. Tailback Elijah Allston had two touchdown runs for the No. 6-ranked Rams (1-0).
“I think we have a mature group,” Cheshire coach Don Drust said. “We have guys that understand you have to play four quarters. I have guys who understand you’ve got to regroup, you’ve got to correct the mistakes we were making. We felt like we left some plays on the field in the first half and some opportunities.
“There was no panic.”
Still, down 10-7 in the third quarter, it was looking a little iffy for the Rams when its offense, once again, stalled inside Shelton territory.
Usually sure-footed kicker Ethan Bronson missed his second field goal attempt of the game, this time from 37 yards out. Earlier he missed a 42-yarder.
But just a couple plays later, Cheshire’s Nick Quint picked off Shelton’s new junior quarterback Jake Roberts. That set up Allston’s go-ahead 4-yard touchdown run with 5:27 remaining in the third.
“When Nick made that interception and we scored two plays later, I think that really changed the momentum of the game,” Raba said.
“It really gave us a big boost and got us going.”
Only down 14-10, Shelton’s defense appeared hold Cheshire at midfield late in the fourth quarter. But on the ensuing punt, the Gaels were hit with a 15-yard roughing the kicker penalty, giving the ball back to the Rams with great field position.
Raba promptly hit Jeffery in stride for a picture-perfect 26-yard touchdown strike and a 21-10 lead with 5:24 remaining.
“Michael’s a great athlete, all you have to do is give him a chance to make a play and he’ll make you look good,” said Raba, who’d also hit
Jeffery with a 13-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter. “He’s an awesome weapon to have on your team.”
Then Cheshire’s defense, which had been stout all evening, amped up the pressure. It sacked Roberts on back-to-back plays, the second of which caused a fumble that was recovered by senior lineman Dan Covel inside the Shelton 10-yard line.
Allston put the capper on the evening with a 4-yard touchdown run.
“This was huge,” Jeffery said. “Since youth football we’ve known we were good. And we’re finally all together, one team, all of our seniors… we’re all brothers and we play as one.”
Shelton’s points came on Nick Andrade’s 33-yard field goal in the first quarter and Jack Carr’s 4-yard run on the first play of the second.
But if the Gaels are hoping to qualify for the playoffs for the fourth-consecutive year, this group, which features only a handful of returning starters, has some work to do.
“They have some really good football players, it’s a real veteran team,” Shelton coach Jeff Roy said of Cheshire. “We were right there until the fourth quarter. I told the kids, a couple of plays were going to turn it one way or the other and that’s what happened.
“We’ll be back. We’ll get better.”
Cheshire 28, Shelton 10
SHELTON 3 7 0 0 — 14
CHESHIRE 7 0 7 14 — 28
S— Nick Andrade 33 field goal
C—Michael Jeffery 13 pass Jack Raba (Ethan Bronson kick)
S — Nick Carr 4 run (Andrade kick)
C — Elijah Allston 4 run (Bronson kick)
C — Jeffery 26 pass Raba (Bronson kick)
C — Allston 3 run (Bronson kick)
Shelton 0-1, Cheshire 1-0