SHELTON >> Shelton sophomore Paul Ferrigno appeared to have made the potential game-clinching interception over Ridgefield receiver Collin Lowe with less than two minutes remaining in a Class LL state semifinal.
But as Ferrigno and Lowe fell to the ground together, Lowe ripped the ball from Ferrigno’s hands.
Instead of an interception, it was a touchdown, one that lifted the visiting Tigers to an improbable victory.
Seventh-seeded Ridgefield scored two touchdowns in the final minutes, including Lowe’s game-winner with 1:14 left, in a dramatic 44-41 victory over the No. 6 Gaels Monday at Finn Stadium.
“He (Ridgefield quarterback Drew Fowler) just threw the ball up and we both kind of grabbed onto it at the same time,” Lowe said. “I just took it away from him at the last second. It was great. I don’t think there’s any better way (to advance to state final) than just a last-second catch in the end zone.”
Ridgefield (10-2) will play fellow FCIAC member Darien, the top-seed and defending champion, in the Class LL championship game on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at West Haven’s Ken Strong Stadium. The two did not play during the regular season.
The Shelton coaches thought Ferrigno retained possession of the ball and was down by contact in the end zone. The loss denied the Gaels (9-3) a chance to play in a third straight state championship game.
“I thought we intercepted the ball,” Shelton coach Jeff Roy said. “I thought our kid intercepted it, and I thought they took it away from him on the ground. But, they made the call and you have to live with it.”
Down 41-31, Fowler found Shane Palmer on a 28-yard touchdown pass with 3:38 left. The extra point was no good and the Tigers trailed by four. Ridgefield then forced Shelton to punt with 2:15 left, which set up the Fowler to Lowe winning touchdown pass. The Tigers scored the game’s final 21 points in a 28-21 victory over another SCC team, West Haven, in the semifinals.
“Our coaches emphasized poise all year,” Fowler said. “I think that’s really has come out the last two games coming back from behind in playoff games. It’s huge. Poise has definitely played a factor into that.”
Ridgefield coach Kevin Callahan noted that his team was down 17 points before rallying for a 46-33 win over Trumbull in the season opener. In the postgame huddle, Callahan told his players that they are a special group.
“Their resiliency and their perseverance,” Callahan said what makes his team special. “You can’t count these kids out. Just by nature you see their heads dropping and things, but they just believe that they can always get back in the game and score. Fortunately our offense has been good enough that we can score with just about everybody we play. That’ll keep you in the game.”
Fowler completed 26 of 39 passes for 347 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. Chris Longo made 11 catches for 96 yards and two touchdowns, Lowe made seven catches for 84 yards and the one score and Palmer made six receptions for 151 yards and two scores. Luke Gaydos also caught a touchdown pass for the Tigers.
“They had an excellent passing game and very good wide receivers,” Roy said. “Obviously that gave us trouble tonight.”
David Wells scored on touchdowns runs of 48, 41, 28 and 20 for Shelton and he also connected with Anthony Schiavo on a 23-yard touchdown pass. Ronnie Rich added a touchdown run for the Gaels.
Ridgefield will play for a state title for the first time since winning Class L in 2002.
“It’s incredible, I’m lost for words,” Fowler said. “We don’t make it everyone year so it’s pretty special for us to make it, especially senior year.”
Ridgefield 44, Shelton 41
Ridgefield 3 21 7 13 — 44
Shelton 14 13 0 14 — 41
S—David Wells 48 run (Joe Zoppi kick)
S—Ronnie Rich 1 run (Zoppi kick)
R—Petros Papadopoulos 27 FG
S—David Wells 41 run (Zoppi kick)
R—Shane Palmer 68 pass from Drew Fowler (Papadopoulos kick)
R—Christopher Longo 2 pass from Drew Fowler (Papadopoulos kick)
R—Christopher Longo 15 pass from Drew Fowler (Papadopoulos kick)
S—Anthony Schiavo 23 pass from David Wells (kick failed)
R—Luke Gaydos 9 pass from (Papadopoulos kick)
S—David Wells 28 run (Zoppi kick)
S—David Wells 20 run (Zoppi kick)
R—Shane Palmer 28 pass from Drew Fowler (kick failed)
R—Collin Lowe 20 pass from Drew Fowler (Papadopoulos kick)
Team records: Shelton 9-3; Ridgefield 10-2