CANTON >> It’s been 20 years since the Gilbert School football team has had a chance to win a league championship. Tony Ortiz made sure the Yellowjackets will get an opportunity this season.
Ortiz ran for a career-high 297 yards and scored two touchdowns to lead Gilbert/Northwestern to a 28-15 victory over Canton in a Pequot Conference Western Division game Saturday.
The Yellowjackets improved to 5-1 on the season and 3-0 in the Pequot West Division. Gilbert/NWR has a big game next Saturday at Van Why Field against Avon, who has won Pequot divisional titles in six of the last eight years.
A win against the Falcons would leave Gilbert in excellent position to win its first league championship in football since 1975 with Western Division games remaining against Nonnewaug (2-4) on Nov. 16 and Housatonic/Wamogo (0-6) on Thanksgiving morning.
But Gilbert/NWR had to get past Canton (4-2, 3-1 Pequot West) and the Yellowjackets used big plays to get the job done.
Yellowjacket quarterback John Lippincott completed just three of 10 passes and threw two interceptions. But all three completions were for at least 16 yards. Two kept drives alive and one was a touchdown pass.
Ortiz had one of the biggest plays of the game late in the third quarter, breaking three attempted tackles and running 90 yards for a touchdown that extended Gilbert’s lead to 28-7. It was the longest run of Ortiz’s career.
Canton had been driving but fumbled on the 10-yard line with Gilbert/NWR’s Nick Pedrolini recovering. On first down, Ortiz ran to his left and was nearly tackled in the backfield. He escaped. He was nearly brought down two more times in a 10-yard span. Then, he took off down the left sideline.
Ortiz rushed for 297 yards on 33 carries. He caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from Lippincott in the second quarter and ran in a two-point conversion in the third quarter after his touchdown run.
Ortiz also gained 50 yards on the first play of the third quarter. Lined up in the wildcat formation, he took the ball and raced around the left side to the Canton 16-yard line. Two plays later, Lippincott scored to give Gilbert a 20-0 lead.
“Today was Tony Ortiz’s day,” Gilbert/NWR coach Scott Salius said. “It was a phenomenal effort on his part. We rode the back of Tony. We decided to run the ball at them and you have to go with what works.”
Lippincott added, “The (offensive line) played great but he found the holes and broke a lot of tackles. He was popping out of nowhere.”
Gilbert/NWR prevailed despite turning the ball over four times. Ortiz lost one fumble, Dayton lost a fumble and Lippincott threw a pair of interceptions to Canton’s Sebby Gumbs.
“Our defense stepped up and stopped them in key moments,” Lippincott said.
Six times, the Yellowjackets stopped Canton drives inside their own 40-yard line. Two Canton drives inside the Gilbert 20-yard line were stopped.
The game was scoreless in the first quarter when Canton marched to the Gilbert 16. But Mark Lapinski stopped Canton’s Dan Delos for no gain. On third down, Ryan Ott tackled Canton’s Terrance Brophy for a 1-yard loss and on fourth down, Matthew Nieves sacked Canton QB Eric Scott for an eight-yard loss to snuff out the drive.
Gilbert/NWR took a 7-0 lead on a nice catch by Ortiz on a 16-yard pass from Lippincott with 7:27 left in the second quarter. Ortiz had a sharp 23-yard run to get the ball to the Canton 13-yard line.
The Yellowjackets marched 65 yards on eight plays to take a 14-0 lead on a three-yard run from Lippincott with 2:15 left in the quarter. A big play on the drive was a 34-yard reception from Lippincott to Seth Dayton to the Canton 20.
After Gilbert took a 20-0 lead in the third quarter, Canton went 60 yards on seven plays with Terrance Brophy scoring from the 15-yard line to cut the lead to 20-7.
On Gilbert’s next possession, the Yellowjackets went for it on fourth down and four on their own 41-yard line. The pass failed and Canton took over, quickly marching inside the Gilbert 20. But on third and five on the Yellowjacket 11, the Warriors coughed up the ball to stop the scoring threat.
On the next play, Ortiz ran 90 yards for a 28-7 lead.
Gilbert/NWR has had four straight winning seasons including a berth in the 2010 Class M playoffs. But the last time, they were contention for a league title was in 1993 when they finished second behind Putnam in the Pequot Sassacus Division.
Gilbert/Northwestern 28, Canton 15
At Canton High School
Gilbert/NWR (5-1) 0 14 14 0-28
Canton (4-2) 0 0 7 8-15
G: Tony Ortiz 16 pass from John Lippincott (Joe Columbie kick), 7:27
G: Lippincott 3 run (Columbie kick), 2:15
G: Lippincott 5 run (kick fails), 10:15
C: Terrance Brophy 15 run (Eddie Melton kick), 7:20
G: Ortiz 90 run (Ortiz run), 3:39
C: Keith Wilson 42 pass from Eric Scott (Delos run), 6:02
RUSHING: Gilbert/NWR — Tony Ortiz 33-297, Matthew Nieves 3-14, John Lippincott 5-23, Aiden Tellier 1-0; Canton – Terrance Brophy 19-136, Sebby Gumbs 12-73, Dan Delos 16-88, Eric Scott 5-minus 14
PASSING: Gilbert/NWR — Lippincott 3-8-2, 67, Ortiz 0-1-0; Canton – Eric Scott 3-15-0, 65, Sebby Gumbs 0-1-0
RECEIVING: Gilbert/NWR — Ortiz 1-16, Seth Dayton 1-34, Nick Pedrolini 1-17; Canton — Sebby Gumbs 1-14, Keith Wilson 1-42, Cam Daley 1-9