SHELTON >> He kicks the football, he catches the football and now he’s a Most Valuable Player.
Shelton’s Joe Zoppi kicked three field goals — tying a state career record with 20 — caught two touchdown passes of 12 and 56 yards and was 5-for-5 on extra points to lead Shelton to a 44-8 win over Derby in the 106th renewal of the rivalry at Finn Stadium.
For all of that, Zoppi received the Silver Turkey Award as Most Valuable Player in the traditional Thanksgiving Day game. In the process, Shelton clinched a Class LL postseason berth and will play at Newtown (10-0) in the quarterfinal round Tuesday. The CIAC will make that official Friday.
“I always picture myself making the field goal, making the one that wins the game,” said Zoppi, whose career-long is 36 yards. “I’ve been kicking since the sixth grade and I’ve improved every year. I like catching the ball, too. That’s a bonus.”
Shelton coach Jeff Roy said he wanted to put the game away early and then rest his starters in preparation for the state playoffs.
Mission accomplished as the Gaels scored early and often and were out of sight at 41-0 at the half.
“They had too much of everything,” said Derby coach George French. “They were bigger, faster and stronger than us. But they have a lot of experience with 27 seniors who have been through a lot. They beat us up physically and mentally.”
Shelton (8-2) wasted no time. Roy gave the Red Raiders a new look with Ronnie Rich running out of the Wildcat and four plays into the game Rich (11 carries, 113 yards, all in the first half) scored from nine yards out and with Zoppi’s kick, led 7-0 with 10:54 left in the opening quarter.
The Gaels added a 30-yard field goal from Zoppi midway through the quarter. They followed that up with another touchdown when Santino Durante blocked a punt, picked it up and returned it seven yards for the score and the Gaels were breezing, 17-0.
Shelton added another score with 30 seconds left in the period when David Wells (4-for-6, 111 yards) hit Zoppi from 12 yards out to take a 24-0 lead at the first turn.
The Wells-to-Zoppi connection hooked up again, this time from 56 yards out, to give Shelton a 31-0 lead with 10:44 left to play in the first half. Rich added a 12-yard touchdown run and Zoppi another field goal, this one from 32 yards, to give Shelton its 41-0 lead at intermission.
“I thought we played very well,” said Roy. “The kids were excited to play and this game has great tradition. I thought we executed on both sides of the ball and on special teams. It was important to get the big lead so we could rest our kids in the second half.”
Shelton played very few regulars on either offense or defense after the break.
Derby got on the board early in the second half when Alijah Ellis (19 carries, 132 yards) ran 70 yards for a touchdown. Zoppi added his record-tying field goal with 5:30 left in the third quarter.
Shelton finished with 299 yards offense, 270 of those coming in the first half. Derby, which had only 72 yards in the first half, finished with 203.
Shelton, a Class LL school, has won the last 14 games over Class S Derby.
“Things are cyclical,” said French. “This is a traditional game and I’m a Derby guy. Right now we are very young. I love the game and all that goes with it — the bonfires, the luncheon and all. We just have to step up and make it more competitive.”
Derby finished 2-8.
Shelton 44, Derby 8
Derby (2-8) 0 0 8 0 — 8
Shelton (8-2) 24 17 3 0 — 44
(S) Ronnie Rich 8 run (Joe Zoppi kick)
(S) Zoppi 30 FG
(S) Santino Durante 7 blkd punt return (Zoppi kick)
(S) Zoppi 12 pass from David Wells (Zoppi kick)
(S) Zoppi 56 pass from Wells (Zoppi kick)
(S) Rich 12 run (Zoppi kick)
(S) Zoppi 32 FG
(D) Alijah Ellis 70 run (Tom Abel run)
(S) Zoppi 30 FG