NORTH HAVEN >> When you’ve prevailed in as many games as the Shelton football team has the last three seasons against as tough a schedule as the top tier of the Southern Connecticut Conference has to offer, winning can become an art form.
Friday night against defending Class L finalist North Haven at Vanacore Field, the No. 3 Gaels were outgained and arguably outplayed for large portions and trailed (without the ball) midway through the fourth quarter. But when the final whistle blew, Shelton has its 28th consecutive regular-season victory, 35-34 over a crestfallen Indians squad.
“We’ve been down in games, our kids don’t panic,” Shelton coach Jeff Roy, who was give the game ball after recording his 100th career victory, said. “We just play the next play and execute the plays we call, and try to make a play. At the end, we made a couple of plays to win the football game.”
North Haven fell to 3-3, and is just 1-3 in its inaugural trip through the brutal Division I schedule, but all three have been close. The Indians lost to Cheshire by three, led Notre Dame-West Haven in the second half before falling, and certainly had plenty of chances to win Friday.
The Gaels (6-0) led 14-0 early, but the Indians stormed back with 21 unanswered points before Shelton tied at 21 with 8 minutes still remaining in the second quarter. But the defenses stiffened and it looked like the half would end even when Shelton — which had gotten close a couple of times before — blocked a punt and Justin Greene ran it in from 3 yards out with just 31 seconds remaining in the second quarter. North Haven had a chance to run out the clock prior to punting, but took a chance at throwing passes (and stopping the clock) to try to score itself.
“The decision to try to move the ball before the end of the half ended up backfiring,” North Haven coach Anthony Sagnella said. “That’s a sore spot right now with how the game turned out. I don’t know. We’re plugging away, we’re getting better every week, despite losing. This is a quality team and we matched them toe to toe.”
The Indians also got some bad luck when kicker Colin Finkle hurt his back midway through the third quarter on his fourth straight successful extra point try that tied the game at 28. After Mark Montano scored his second touchdown with 11:05 left, the ensuing extra point was missed to keep the score at 34-28.
The Indians had the ball and a chance to run clock with seven minutes left, but Tom Dodge was intercepted by Armando Martinez. Shelton, led by David Wells (17-of-34, 251 yards, 3 TDs), marched down the field with Wells going 5-for-5 on the winning drive, which was finished with a 10-yard TD pass to Anthony Schiavo with 3:48 left.
Dodge was intercepted again on the next possession (by Santino Durante) and Shelton ran out the clock for yet another tight victory.
“It’s this league, you’re going to have battles,” Roy said. “And teams are going to go up and down the field like they did tonight in today’s high school football. We knew it was going to be a dogfight and I’m glad we came out on top.”
Ronnie Rich led the Gaels with 106 yards on 16 carries. North Haven had two players go over 100 yards rushing in Montano (12-162) and Dodge (17-104), racking up 427 yards of total offense in the process, but it wasn’t enough. They’ve now scored 68 points in their last two games and lost both, with their reward being a trip to Ken Strong Stadium to take on fourth-ranked and undefeated West Haven next Friday.
“We’ve always had the same goal, to try to be the best program we can be,” Sagnella said. “Certainly we’ve arrived at a place where we’re competing with the best teams in our league and in some cases, the state. Certainly, we want to win. But that will come.”
Shelton 35, North Haven 34
(at North Haven)
Shelton 14 14 0 7 — 35
North Haven 7 14 7 6 — 34
S—Joe Zoppi 5 pass from David Wells (Zoppi kick)
S—Jack Carr 1 run (Zoppi kick)
N—Jamorea Hooks 1 run (Colin Finkle kick)
N—Kyle Melillo 28 pass from Jack Steinman (Finkle kick)
N—Tom Dodge 7 run (Finkle kick)
S—Paul Ferrigno 20 pass from David Wells (Zoppi kick)
S—Justin Greene 3 blocked punt ret
N—Mark Montano 20 run (Finkle kick)
N—Mark Montano 11 run (kick failed)
S—Anthony Schiavo 10 run (Zoppi kick)
Team records: North Haven 3-3; Shelton 6-0