SHELTON — Many of the names might have changed after losing 19 players to graduation from last year’s 10-1 team, but the end result remained the same for the Shelton football team in its season opener Friday night.
The Gaels, the No. 6 team in the GameTimeCTPreseason Top 10 football poll, defeated West Haven 21-13 in a Southern Connecticut Conference Tier I game in front of about 1,200 at Shelton’s Finn Stadium.
The victory was Shelton’s 20th straight regular-season win, and 49th in its last 52.
The win didn’t come easy for Shelton, which trailed 7-0 and 13-7.
“We knew that was going to be a battle,” said Shelton coach Jeff Roy of facing long-time rival West Haven. “We’ve played these guys for the 25 years I’ve been coaching. It’s a battle every year.”
After West Haven took a 13-7 lead on a Jordan Berrio’s 85-yard interception return, the Gaels answered right back with a Michai Lynch’s 77-yard touchdown run on the next play from scrimmage.
The PAT by Cristiano Rosas gave the Gaels the lead for good, 14-13, with 6:59 left in the third quarter.
The outcome might have been different if West Haven quarterback Andre Rentas hadn’t left the game with an ankle injury late in the third quarter with the Blue Devils in Shelton territory.
“He scrambled up the middle, he split those two big, big guards, and when he was down, one of them fell on the back of his ankle,” said West Haven coach Rich Boshea of the Rentas injury.
Rentas (7-of-17, 112 yards, 1 TD) did not return to the game and Boshea was not sure of the extent of the injury after the game.
“It’s unfortunate he went down,” said Roy of the Rentas injury. “When they lost him, it was tough.”
Shelton’s David Niski recovered a fumbled shotgun snap at the Blue Devil 8-yard line early in the fourth quarter, setting up a Georgio Ghazal (17 carries 75 yards) touchdown run on the next play to make it a 21-13 Shelton lead.
Still only trailing by a score, the West Haven offense failed to move the ball past its own 48-yard line on its final three possessions.
With Rentas hurt, Berrios ran the wildcat formation, but the Shelton defense was ready.
“They ran [the wildcat] on us last year,” said Roy. “So the kids were prepared if [Berrios] went in there. It’s a lot easier without Andre in there quarterbacking. That kid’s dangerous. He’s going to win them some football games this year.”
West Haven, which finished last season 5-5 in its first season without a winning record in 10 years, struck first offensively.
The Blue Devils took advantage of a short field to move 43 yards in five plays, capped by a Rentas-to Jaden Grant touchdown pass covering six yards.
Rentas added the PAT for a 7-0 West Haven lead midway with 7:51 left in the second quarter.
The Shelton offense finally broke through late in the first half.
Callinan completed four-of-five passes on the drive, including a 19-yard strike to Chris Thompson in the back of the end zone to knot up the score 7-7 with one minute left in the first half.
Shelton’s front seven were on the attack the whole night, sacking the West Haven quarterbacks eight times.
Michael Lockavitch led the charge with four sacks and was in on 13 tackles. Phillip Sissick added a pair of sacks.
“I was proud of our kids. I thought we responded to adversity. Down 7-0 and then 13-7, we kept coming, kept responding. A lot of mistakes, so we have to clean some things up, but the kids showed a lot of heart.” — Jeff Roy
Both teams are back in action on Friday in Connecticut High School Football Scheduling Alliance cross-over games. West Haven hosts Conard of West Hartford in a 7 p.m start. Shelton hits the road to play at East Hartford at 6:30.