MIDDLETOWN >> There have been storied comeback victories in Xavier’s football history. The miracle win at Hillhouse last season and the great comeback against Notre Dame in 2009 immediately come to mind.
But considering what was on the line Friday night, those might have to take a back seat to what happened at Palmer Field when the Falcons came back from the dead to stun Shelton 15-12, scoring the winning touchdown with 9 seconds left in the game.
After three quarters, Xavier didn’t have a point on the board and the Gaels were up 12-0. The Falcons were dead in the water. The fourth quarter began with Xavier quarterback Joe Carbone getting intercepted for the second time, and it looked like ‘Wait ‘til Next Year’ was going to be the mantra for coach Sean Marinan’s postgame chat with the media.
Put next year on hold.
After forcing a three-and-out after the second interception, Xavier began to march. Led by the running of Carbone, the Falcons moved 67 yards in nine plays with Carbone scoring from the 1-yard line. With Rickey Verre’s extra point, Xavier trailed 12-7 with 7:28 left in regulation.
But Shelton (6-3) picked up two first downs on its next possession and, when the Falcons’ defense finally forced a punt, the ball rolled dead on the Xavier 2-yard line, 98 yards away from The Promised Land — and the Falcons had no timeouts.
That’s when Carbone made himself a high school hero.
Xavier marched those 98 yards in 13 plays and Carbone led the way.“The kids came up big on that drive,” said Marinan.
“Carbone showed great poise and maturity. He hit a big pass to Kaleb (Lutton for 37 yards), knew when to run and was smart enough to run out of bounds when he had to. And he made that big fourth-down pass to (Andrew) Meoli.”
It was on second down that Carbone hit Lutton for 37 yards to give the Falcons a chance. He ran the ball three times for 35 yards, then on 4th and 8 from the 17, hit Meoli for 13 yards after scrambling to keep the play alive.
With the place in an uproar, Carbone threw two incomplete passes and saw his team get hit with a 5-yard illegal substitution penalty. Then, on 3rd and goal from the 9, he ran around the left end and dived into the end zone with nine seconds left in the game. The two-point conversion pass from Carbone to Meoli gave the Falcons the 3-point lead.
“That was way too close for my comfort,” said Marinan. “All I was thinking on that last drive was call plays, get first downs. We were flat, but the kids kept fighting, kept playing and we began to click on offense in the fourth quarter.”
Shelton took a 6-0 lead on a 46-yard run by Jason Thompson (17 carries, 72 yards) at 8:48 of the first quarter. The Gaels held Xavier to just 125 yards offense in the first half.
The Gaels built the lead to 12-0 in the third quarter when quarterback Mark Piccirillo (26 carries, 88 yards) scored from a yard out. Both times Shelton’s conversions — one a kick, the other a pass — failed.
“Xavier has too many weapons,” said Shelton coach Jeff Roy, whose team lost Thompson for the rest of the season with a broken collarbone. “We just couldn’t stop them when we had to.”
Carbone finished with 124 yards on 24 carries and completed 6 of 19 passes for 95 yards. Meoli ran for 110 yards on 17 carries. The Falcons finished with 329 yards of offense to Shelton’s 253, but the big stat was the 98 yards on the game-wininng drive.
“I was thinking, ‘Just one play a time,’” said Carbone. “I know we have a great offense and our offensive line is so good. It was do or die and now I’m looking forward to next week.”
Xavier (7-2) plays at Fairfield Prep next Saturday at 7 p.m. in what amounts to yet another Class LL state tournament qualifying game.
SHELTON 6 0 6 0 — 12
XAVIER 0 0 0 15 — 15
S–Jason Thompson 46 run (kick failed)
S–Mark Piccirillo 1 run (pass failed)
X–Joe Carbone 1 run (Ricky Verre kick)
X–Carbone 9 run (Andrew Meoli pass Carbone)
Records: Shelton 6-3, Xavier 7-2