Shelton coach Jeff Roy has always stressed the importance of special teams. Knowing a big play by this unit could influence a game, Roy saw all his team’s hard work pay off Friday evening.
A blocked punt by Jason Thompson was recovered in the end zone by Troy Vasilescu in the second quarter to give the Gaels a lead they never relinquished in a 35-13 victory over Foran at the Vito DeVito Sports Complex in Milford. The score started a run of 28 straight points by Shelton, which put the game away.
“It was huge,” Roy said of the block. “It was a 7-7 game and it was a tough game. The block got us an easy score. We have been working on it for a while.”
The special teams’ score swung the momentum in Shelton’s favor and junior quarterback Mark Piccirillo added to it when he scored on Shelton’s last play of the half for a 21-7 Gael lead at the half.
“The run was huge,” Roy said of Piccirillo’s score. “They are so dangerous on offense. To get a two score lead was big. We had the punt block and the score before the half. I thought that was a big part of the game for us.”
Foran coach Jeff Bevino, who saw his team hurt itself by not finishing plays, agreed with Roy in saying the blocked punt and late score proved to be too much for the Lions to overcome.
“It was 7-7 late in the second quarter,” Bevino said. “They get the blocked punt to score a touchdown and they score another right before the half.
“It is how we let it happen. We had a third down and had a play which we did not make the catch. That is the difference in one score. We could not hold on to the football. But, the team never quit.”
Before the turn of events in the second quarter, the two teams battled through the first quarter.
Shelton (4-0) scored on its opening possession, marching 64 yards before Piccirillo scored from 10 yards out with 4 minutes, 50 seconds left in the first quarter for a 7-0 lead.
Foran (2-2) answered rather quickly as the Lions’ opening drive also ended with a score. Nick Weissauer capped the drive with a 2-yard touchdown run to even the game at 7.
“We moved the ball well all night,” Bevino said. “We had some key turnovers and a couple of dropped balls that took us out of the game.
“The big thing is we know we moved the football on them. They are a good football team. We had nearly 400 yards of offense. We know we don’t have to take a back seat to anyone.”
Foran’s defense also came up big early, stopping Shelton on a fourth down at the Lions’ 6. If that was not enough, the Lions had two early interceptions but could not cash in.
The Gaels then turned the game around in a few short minutes. Thompson broke through and blocked the punt that Vasilescu recovered in the end zone for a score, before Piccirillo scored from 1 yard out prior to the half, giving Shelton a 21-7 lead following Joe Zoppi’s third extra point.
“We have played great,” Roy said of his team. “We played a good all-around game as far as offense, special teams and defense. It was an all-around team effort.”
The Lions again squandered a scoring opportunity when quarterback Jake Kasuba was intercepted for the third time and Shelton took over at its own 10.
Those missed opportunities loomed large when the Gaels increased the lead to 28-7 in the third quarter. Senior Michael Pingree used a sweep to race 25 yards for a score and a 28-7 Shelton lead.
When Piccirillo scored from 4 yards out to start the fourth quarter, Shelton had run off 28 straight points to seize control of the game.
Foran capped the scoring when Kasuba hit Connor Cadrin with a 29-yard scoring strike.
Kasuba finished the game 26-of-42 for 307 yards. Kasuba threw three interceptions and a touchdown, while also running for 53 yards in the loss.
“I thought the key was we mixed up our coverages,” Roy said. “If they know what is coming, they will pick you apart. That is a good offense over there.”
Of Kasuba’s 26 completions, 11 found Weissauer, who had 136 yards receiving.
Piccirillo led Shelton with 123 yards rushing on 23 carries and scored three touchdowns. Piccirillo also threw for 86 yards, completing 9-of-16 passes.
Thompson gained 80 yards on 12 carries and Pingree raced for 68 yards on seven carries for Shelton.