Week 5: Shelton (4-0) vs. Fairfield Prep (3-1), Friday, 7 p.m.
Shelton had one of the SCC’s most competitive football teams a year ago, but the standings told a sadder story.
No matter what the Gaels tried, even with their playoff hopes still showing a pulse late in the year, they couldn’t get one signature victory over the best teams in the SCC a year ago.
To wit: They let Colton Smith and Fairfield Prep run all over them in a 38-28 loss in last year’s Week 5. …They let a late lead slip away over Hand and lost, 44-41, on a late field goal by Tyler Phan in Week 7. …They had Xavier down 12-0, but lost 15-12 thanks to a clutch fourth-down conversion and a last-second touchdown. …Finally, they just ran out of gas trying to stay with Ervin Phillips and West Haven in a 35-26 loss.
Since 2005, no SCC program has had more winning seasons than Shelton. They haven’t had a losing season since 2005. But they’ve only reached the state playoffs twice and haven’t returned since 2007.
For a proud program trying to recapture the glory, 2013 was one kick in the rear after another.
So with a good core of seniors returning, including three-year starting quarterback Mark Piccirillo, the rallying cry for 2014 was easy to figure out: “Finish.”
Anyone who’s been to a Shelton weight-lifting session or a practice can attest: “Finish,” has to be the most spoken and seen word among the Gaels nowadays. “There’s — what? — nine million pictures of the word ‘finish’ in our locker room,” senior linebacker Troy Vasilescu said earlier this season. “They’re everywhere.”
“Yea, it was frustrating,” said Piccirillo, who has thrown for 4,042 yards and 42 touchdowns during his career, including 631 and 8 TDs this season. “Last year, we had so many opportunities to score, but we didn’t capitalize. …That got us angry. That became our main sticking point. We want to finish. We want to finish on defense. We want to finish drives to win games.”
Shelton has been perfect so far, but against teams that are a combined 4-12 this season. The Gaels admit they haven’t truly been tested yet… until Friday night when they head to Fairfield Warde’s Tetreau-Davis Field for a rematch with Smith and Fairfield Prep.
They’ve been working and waiting for this moment for a whole year.
It’s time to put ‘finish’ to the test.
“We’re excited,” Shelton coach Jeff Roy said. “It’s going to be a great game. A lot of people are talking about it. Everybody wants to see it. It’ll be a game between two good football teams with two good quarterbacks who can both score a lot of points. We’re telling everybody: Come out and see the game.'”
The Gaels’ main focus will be keeping Prep’s Smith from running wild like he did a year ago. Smith ran for 218 yards and four touchdowns, including backbreaking 80 and 54-yard scores to put Shelton away. It would remain a harrowing theme for Shelton throughout the rest of the season.
Part of the problem, Piccirillo said, was that last year’s team took itself for granted. “Last year we had a great team and all, but people would slow down before the end of the games. We’d get tired,” he said. “Last year, they (Prep) broke 80 and 50 yard runs on us in two minutes and you really can’t allow that to happen.
“This year’s team, things are different. We take practices more seriously. We finish practices every day. We go hard the whole week. We don’t want to make any mistakes this time.”
In addition to Piccirillo on offense, who’s the team’s leader with 488 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns, the Gaels have been boosted by the return of Chris Kanios. The junior didn’t play last year to focus on baseball. He’s merely caught 10 passes for 273 yards and four touchdowns. Junior Kevin Robinson is another threat with 9 catches for 287 yards and four scores. Junior Peter Hoff has added 128 yards on the ground.
Defensively, Shelton has allowed just one touchdown in the competitive stages of their four victories over Trumbull, Guilford, Amity and Foran. Linebacker Troy Vasilescu leads the team with 6 1/2 tackles a game. He’s also made four sacks, tied with senior lineman Wes Sekelsky. Fellow captain Nick Van Slyke has returned at safety after being carted off the field in a victory over Shelton.
“We don’t have a real standout,” Roy said of his defense. “Honestly, it’s really been a team defense. We do have a lot of speed and we swarm to the ball. Containing Colton Smith will be a test for us.”
Roy credited Dan Dunaj, a former Seymour assistant and head coach at Torrington, with keeping this team focused and fit to close out games through his work with the weightlifting program .
“Yea, we haven’t been tested by a team of Fairfield Prep’s caliber yet, and we expect to be playing our starters into the fourth quarter for the first time,” Roy said. “But the positive side of that is we’re healthy, we’re in shape and we’re rearing to go. Our kids are ready to go four quarters.”
This is Fairfield Prep’s first big game since losing 48-33 to St. Joseph in Week 2. Smith has accounted for 900 total yards and 13 touchdowns. Receiver John DelliSanti, who scored two TDs vs. Shelton a year ago, is also back for the rematch. The Jesuits also have senior backs Joe Ganim (284 yards, 4 TDs) and Allen Gibson (210 yards, 3 TDs) to carry the offense. Prep’s defense which allowed 88 points in its first two games, has tightened up in victories over Notre Dame-WH and Branford.
And Shelton can’t wait for another crack at them.
“Everybody’s real excited, especially the coaches,” Piccirillo said. “We can’t wait. We just want to get out there and play this game.
“I want to win this game more than anything.”