Falanga saves No. 6 Shelton from Cheshire’s upset bid

Shelton’s Jake Falanga (9) celebrates his game-clinching interception in a 17-10 victory over Cheshire Friday, Sept. 7 at Xavier’s McHugh Field. (Photo Sean Patrick Bowley)

MIDDLETOWN — For much of the last month, the breaks were beating the boys from No. 6-ranked Shelton. 

The Gaels were without a field (Finn Stadium is being resurfaced) and had to play their opener far, far away at rival Xavier High School’s McHugh Field in Middletown.

Jake Roberts, their senior starting quarterback, received a scare when he was injured in a preseason scrimmage.

They’d had limited practice time because of a heat wave. And, to top it off, they found themselves in a dog fight with Cheshire.

But with a minute remaining of a tie ballgame and Cheshire in possession with a chance to pull off an upset, the breaks finally went Shelton’s way.

Senior Jake Falanga pounced on a loose ball deep in Cheshire’s end to set up Jake Roberts’ go-ahead 8-yard run, and then sealed Shelton’s 17-10 victory with an interception.

Let Shelton’s Jake Falanga — who had both the fumble recovery, then the game-clinching pick in the final minute — describe what happened: #cthsfb pic.twitter.com/fNwAJj4Sih

— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) September 8, 2018

And so Shelton, touted as one of the best teams in the SCC this year, survived a dicey first encounter.

Whew.

“I’m not making any excuses, but it was a tough week,” said Shelton coach Jeff Roy, whose team improved to 1-0 and will play a second road home game when it faces Xavier.

“With Jake being dinged up, the field, the heat… Every team it’s been like this, but It’s tough to get any kind of continuity. We didn’t have any rhythm, we didn’t have many things going because we didn’t have a lot of practice time. And it showed.”

Roberts, who injured his leg just seven days prior in a scrimmage vs. Ansonia, didn’t start. Instead, he was eased into the game and rotated, first with senior Jack Carr and later with junior quarterback Michael Callinan.

Carr, one of Shelton’s top returning players, left the game after seeing limited action in the first half. The Gaels also turned the ball over three times.

Cheshire, meanwhile, smelled blood. Behind junior quarterback Jason Shumilla, who ran for a 38-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-7 at halftime, and Jake McAlinden, whose runs helped set up the tying field goal by Jotham Casey early in the fourth quarter, the Rams had the No. 6 Gaels sweating.

But Here’s Jake Roberts diving in for the winning TD, Shelton 17-10 over Cheshire #cthsfb pic.twitter.com/J39Rf8eGC2

— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) September 8, 2018

 “We knew it was going to be a tough game,” Falanga said. “We try and not listen to the hype and stuff like that because it’s never good to be overly confident and overly cocky. 

“We just wanted to come in here and play football, baby.”

With the game hanging in the balance, Falanga backed up his words.

Cheshire got the ball back at its own 13 with just under two minutes remaining. But on a dive, Shumilla lost the ball in a scrum, unbeknownst to most of the players and coaches on the sidelines.

“All of the sudden I hear ‘Ball!’ and I just stopped,” said Falanga, a defensive back. “…I just turned around and it’s on the ground.”

Though he got tackled, not everyone on the field knew what had happened, especially not Cheshire coach Don Drust.

“I’ve got to watch the film, to be honest with you,” said Drust, whose team graduated all but four starters from last season. “It was a pile of people. I have no idea.”

Regardless, Roberts bulled in from 8-yards out and Falanga made sure the score stuck by intercepting a prayer thrown by Shumilla.

“I feel great that we won the football game but, you know, we’ve got to get better,” Roy said. “But, credit to (Cheshire), they came out, played hard and we knew they were going to play hard.

“Credit to our kids, too, for the second half. They hung in there in the second half and wound up making the play in the end of game and got out of here with the W.”

While the end was disappointing, Drust and Cheshire didn’t leave discouraged.

“We’re going to push and push and we’re going to continue to learn from the good and the bad,” Drust said. “That’s the most important thing. We’ve got to learn from this now and learn why it happened and we’ve got to get better from it.”

Christian Russo goes up and gets this damn ball to deprive Shelton, 3 min left. Tie game 10-10
He’s a freshman #cthsfb pic.twitter.com/cDfBnyg74y

— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) September 8, 2018

Christian Russo, a freshman, had an interception late in the game for Cheshire, while Ryan Mancl and Jacob Dubois recovered fumbles in the first half.

Michai Barnes scored Shelton’s first touchdown. Giorgio Ghazal led the Gaels with 58 yards on eight carries and set up a 37-yard Nick Andrade field goal. Mike Lockavitch added 10 tackles for the Gaels.

“We’ve got a lot to fix, we’ve got a lot to things to work on,” Falanga said. “But, the good thing is, it’s Week 1. We’ve got a lot of time to fix stuff and we’re coming out strong.”

Shelton 17, Cheshire 10

Cheshire 0 7 0 3   10
Shelton 7 0 3 7   17

S– Michai Barnes 14 run (Nick Andrade kick)
C–Jason Shumilla 38 run (Jotham Casey kick)
S–Andrade 37 field goal
C–Casey 25 field goal
S–Jake Roberts 8 run (Andrade kick)
Shelton 1-0, Cheshire 0-1