NEWTOWN — Newtown was muscled and outplayed for much of its state quarterfinal game vs. Ridgefield. Yet, there the Nighthawks were, with the ball at the goal line about to play for the tying score with seconds remaining.
But Ridgefield wasn’t about to let Newtown become a team of destiny.
Lucas Goff and Pat Weston converged and forced Newtown quarterback Drew Tarantino to make a desperate 2-point pass that Matt Kissell deflected harmlessly away and Ridgefield survived with a 35-33 victory at Blue and Gold Stadium.
Ridgefield, the No. 8 seed, advances to face No. 4 Southington in the Class LL quarterfinals at 2 p.m. Saturday at West Haven High School.
The victory, Ridgefield’s first state playoff win since it won a state final in 2003, had the Tigers elated and relieved to have won a game after nearly surrendering a three-touchdown lead.
“I wasn’t worried,” said Ridgefield back Will Bonaparte, who ran for 226 yards on 36 carries and scored twice. “I was prepared to go into OT and win the game that way, and win any way we could. Coming out and winning our first playoff the way we did tonight, there’s nothing better.”
Newtown senior back Cooper Gold had just scored on a 2-yard run to cap a scoring drive that began at the Newtown 19 with 3:09 left. Ridgefield had a feeling the ball would either go back to Gold, or would be a pass intended for all-state receiver Julian Dunn.
The 2-point play turned out to be a pass. Tarantino had all day to throw, but couldn’t find his man. Finally, Goff got pressure on the quarterback and Tarantino was forced to just throw it into traffic.
It fell incomplete. Ridgefield recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock.
“It was so emotional for us,” said Andrew Chuma, a senior who was locked on Dunn and held the receiver in check for much of the evening. “We’ve been battling through so much adversity and to finally win, we haven’t won in states in 10 years, is huge for us.
“They’re a great football team. I can’t say enough about them. They have so much heart. They were down and they came back. We’ve been rivals with these guys since grade school and we haven’t played them since middle school. It was awesome to pull off a win against them again.”
Ridgefield junior quarterback Ryan Dunn threw two touchdown passes and ran for another as the Tigers took an overwhelming, 35-13 lead with three minutes remaining in the third quarter.
But Newtown’s defense tightened, stopping a fourth down and sniffing out a fake punt, and the offense rallied with three touchdowns over the final 15 minutes of the game.
“Our leaders stepped up, we made a few speeches and we came out with a lot of heart,” Tarantino said. “We opened up the playbook and that worked out and fought to the end. As a captain that’s all I can really ask from this team.
“We just came up 2 1/2 yards short. That’s the way it works out; it’s a game of inches.”
Tarantino threw touchdown passes to Troy Frangione to get Newtown within 35-20 after three. In the fourth, the senior caught an option reverse touchdown pass from Julian Dunn to pull within 35-27 with 11:16 remaining.
After forcing Ridgefield to punt later in the fourth quarter, Newtown had the ball with 3:09 remaining and needed to go 81 yards for the score and to set up a chance to tie.
Aided by a pass interference penalty on Chuma, Newtown drove all the way to the 2-yard line with seconds remaining.
There, Cooper Gold scored on a left-handoff to set up the thrilling finale.
“I knew they were going to come back,” Ridgefield coach Kevin Callahan said. “Even when we were up big, I knew they were going to come back. They’re too good a team, especially at home. I was just hoping we had enough to hold on.”
RIDGEFIELD 7 14 14 0 — 35
NEWTOWN 0 7 13 14 — 33
R—Ryan Dunn 7 run (Petro Papodapoulos kick)
R—Andrew Chuma 56 pass from Dunn (Papodapoulos kick)
N—Julian Dunn 13 pass Andrew Tarantino (Otto Kerler kick)
R—Will Bonaparte 3 run (Papodapoulos kick)
R—Bonaparte 65 run (Papodapoulos kick)
N—Troy Frangione 2 run (kick failed)
R—Rossini 19 pass from Dunn (Papodapoulos kick)
N—Frangione pass from Tarantino (Kerler kick)
N—Tarantino pass from Dunn (Kerler kick)
N—Cooper Gold 2 run (pass failed)