SHELTON >> The frenzied celebration by Shelton following its victory over Xavier was a year’s worth of pent-up frustration.
The Gaels avenged last season’s heartbreaking loss to the Falcons, and remained unbeaten, with a thrilling 28-20 Southern Connecticut Conference Division I West victory Friday at Finn Stadium.
The win gave Shelton the division title, its first since 2007.
One couldn’t blame the Gaels for celebrating so emphatically. Xavier scored with nine seconds left to earn a 15-12 victory over Shelton last year, a loss which ended the Gaels’ postseason dreams. Shelton would go on to finish 7-4.
This time, senior quarterback Mark Piccirillo and junior receivers Kevin Robinson, Alex Kirk and twin brother Sam Kirk made sure the Falcons wouldn’t spoil their season again.
“We’re trying to avenge all those losses,” Robinson said. “This was the game last year — the Xavier game — that created that motto of ‘finish.’ We lost with (nine seconds) left. This was the epitome of ‘finish’ right here.”
Shelton (9-0), ranked fifth in the Register Top 10 Poll, was in control throughout on Friday, leading 21-0 at one point. But Glenn Cunningham scored on a 14-yard run for Xavier to cut the lead to 21-7 at halftime.
The Falcons then constructed a 12-play, 63-yard drive capped by Mike Scherer’s 1-yard touchdown run on the opening possession of the third quarter to creep within 21-14.
But the Gaels responded with the contest’s biggest drive. Shelton took over on their own 45 and scored 14 plays later on Piccirillo’s 13-yard touchdown strike to Robinson to put the Gaels up 28-14.
“That was the drive of the game, no doubt about it,” Shelton coach Jeff Roy said. “They got it to 21-14 and we were able to go right down the field and score. They had the ball for half of that third quarter, and we had it for the other half. But that was a huge drive.”
With 4:24 remaining, Scherer connected with Cunningham on a 68-yard touchdown pass. The point after was no good, and Shelton clung to a 28-20 lead. But Xavier never got the ball back. The Gaels, behind Piccirillo, were able to run out the clock.
Piccirillo and Robinson hooked up for a 6-yard touchdown pass for the game’s first score. Piccirillo then tossed a 17-yard touchdown pass to Alex Kirk and scored on a 29-yard keeper as Shelton built a 21-0 lead in the second quarter.
Robinson caught six passes for 44 yards, while Alex Kirk made four receptions for 58 yards. Piccirillo rushed 44 times for 235 yards. He also completed 12 of 19 passes for 135 yards.
“(Running Piccirillo 44 times) was not planned,” Roy said. “We planned on mixing it up, and throwing the ball. But then we got the lead there, and we were opening up holes for him. He’s our horse. We just said we’ll keep giving him the ball. In big games, we’ve been giving him the ball, and he’s been carrying us. The kid’s a champion, that’s for sure.”
Robinson and Sam Kirk both had interceptions while Ron Hubbard and Matt Herlihy recovered fumbles for Shelton. Wes Sekelsky had a sack for the Gaels.
Xavier turned the ball over four times, including three in the first half.
“We’ve been doing that most of the year,” Xavier coach Sean Marinan said. “It’s come back to haunt us against the good teams.”
Shelton 28, Xavier 20
Xavier 0 7 7 6 — 20
Shelton 7 14 7 0 — 28
S—Kevin Robinson 6 pass from Mark Piccirillo (Joe Zoppi kick)
S—Alex Kirk 17 pass from Mark Piccirillo (Zoppi kick)
S—Mark Piccirillo 29 run (Zoppi kick)
X—Glenn Cunningham 14 run (Andrew Verre kick)
X—Michael Scherer 1 run (Verre kick)
S—Kevin Robinson 13 pass from Mark Piccirillo (Zoppi kick)
X—Glenn Cunningham 68 pass from Michael Scherer (kick failed)
Team records: Shelton 9-0; Xavier 6-3