WEST HAVEN >> Shane Palmer and his Ridgefield teammates have seen their share of adversity this season. So, when a blocked punt by Ridgefield worked against the Tigers, it was just another opportunity for the Tigers to overcome an unexpected challenge.
The Tigers responded in emphatic fashion. Scoring 21 unanswered points, including the only 14 points of the second half, seventh-seeded Ridgefield upset previously undefeated and second-seeded West Haven 28-21 in a CIAC Class LL quarterfinal contest at Ken Strong Stadium in West Haven Tuesday evening.
“We knew they were undefeated and were a great team,” Palmer said after rushing for 81 yards on 18 carries. “We studied film like it was any other game. We made a lot of plays out there. We came ready to play tonight.”
The Tigers advance to play at No. 6 Shelton, a 55-21 winner over Newtown, in the Class LL semifinals Monday evening at 6:30 p.m.
“To knock off an undefeated team is pretty exciting,” Ridgefield coach Kevin Callahan said after his team improved to 9-2. “They play in a great league and we play in a great league. Week in and week out, there are tough games. We just battled out there.”
Trailing 21-7, the Tigers scored in the final two minutes of the second quarter and also stole the momentum. Ridgefield’s defense held West Haven’s star running back Anthony Godfrey to 63 yards rushing, and allowed West Haven just three second half possessions as the Tigers used time-consuming drives.
The Tigers took 6:49 off the clock to start the second half and marched 67 yards in 12 plays. Quarterback Drew Fowler connected on four passes for 57 yards in a drive which ended when Palmer scored from two yards out to even the game at 21.
“We went in at the half and Coach (Callahan) said a little stuff to us,” Palmer said. “We worked with our offense and defense and just said we have played together since the second grade and we had to get this done. We settled down and played our game.”
West Haven took off the remaining time in the third quarter, but was unable to score as the Ridgefield defense sacked quarterback Tim McCarthy on the final play of the quarter.
“They (Ridgefield) played very well,” West Haven coach Rich Boshea said after his team ended the year at 10-1. “They made the plays tonight. The momentum changed right at the half and we didn’t score in the second half.”
On its ensuing possession, Ridgefield essentially won the game, taking another 6:09 off the clock, using 10 plays to march 58 yards. The drive was culminated when Fowler hit Collin Lowe for a 7-yard scoring strike and a 28-21 lead with 5:40 remaining.
“It was nice to see us take six minutes off the clock,” Callahan said. “We were able to take the lead. We were able to settle down and just play ball.”
The Westies looked as if they had a comeback in them as they marched all the way to the Ridgefield 28-yard line with just over two minutes remaining. That comeback ended on a fourth-and-3 as Godfrey was held to one yard.
Ridgefield ran the clock until less than a minute remained and punted, but West Haven’s last play fell incomplete deep in Ridgefield territory.
“It’s just awful,” Boshea said. “I feel sorry for the kids. Ridgefield earned it tonight. They made the plays.”
While the first half saw 35 points combined from the two teams, it was the special teams of West Haven which got things going.
Forced to punt in its own territory, West Haven had a punt blocked by Ridgefield, but the ball landed in the hands of West Haven’s Jose
Conde, who raced 41 yards to the Ridgefield 9-yard line. Two plays later, Kyle Godfrey scored from one yard out for a 7-0 lead with 5:09 left in the opening quarter.
Ridgefield responded with an 8-play, 63-yard drive, capped when Fowler found Christopher Longo for a 27-yard scoring strike on fourth down to even the game at seven with 2:19 left in the quarter.
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If Ridgefield thought it had an answer, West Haven had its own. The Westies needed just three plays to go 80 yards, capped by a 20-yard run by Anthony Godfrey for a 14-7 West Haven advantage.
Following fumbles by each team, West Haven had its own fourth down conversion for a score in the second quarter as McCarthy lofted a perfect fourth down pass to Chris Chance for 37 yards and a 21-7 West Haven lead just 3:31 into the second quarter.
The Tigers got back into the game with 1:51 left in the first half, setting up the thrilling second half when Patrick Lang scored from two yards out to get Ridgefield within 21-14.
Fowler finished the contest 17-of-22 for 210 yards and a pair of touchdown passes for the Tigers.