SHELTON >> One by one the veteran members of the undefeated and fifth-ranked Shelton High School football team went in search of teammate David Wells after a typical grueling four-quarter slugfest against visiting Hand High of Madison.
When the game began, Wells was ready to get to work as a starting cornerback, facing a dynamic Hand passing offense. Perhaps, he might even get some plays in at receiver. But the last thing Wells thought he would be doing was quarterbacking the Gaels for the final three quarters in a 17-13 victory at Finn Stadium.
However, that all changed when Zach Tuskowski suffered a foot injury late in the first quarter as he was being sacked.
Wells was 11 of 18 passing for 146 yards with the numbers being limited by some penalties negating big plays. He added 44 rushing yards, but really no reciting of statistics could fully capture how huge he came up for the Gaels. That was never more evident than on the final drive when Shelton was able to run out the clock and keep Hand from engineering a last-minute game-winning drive.
Wells converted on 3rd and 7 with a 12-yard run, on 3rd and 4 with a 24-yard pass to Alex Kirk and clinched the game with a n 11-yard run on 3rd and 4.
“I had to pick it up,” said Wells, who gave Tuskowski a real run in the preseason for the starting quarterback spot. “I always knew my time was going to come, whether it was this year or next year, and I knew I had to pick it up.
“I wanted this. I put the team on my back and it is on me. We always say next man up, that is our motto.”
Tuskowski had a pair of completions to set up the game’s first points. Pete Hoff did the honors with a 1-yard scoring run with 2:43 left in the first quarter.
A 58-yard punt return by Brett Bilcheck set up a game-tying 10-yard touchdown pass from Nick Van Dell to Ryan Kaufmann. However, on the ensuing drive, Wells threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Sam Kirk with 42.9 seconds left in the first half. The game remained 14-7 until Joe Zoppi’s 22-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter for Shelton (8-0).
Van Dell connected with Kaufmann again to give the Tigers a first down at the Shelton 6 and on the next play Reid Schweitzer powered his way in for a 6-yard touchdown. The extra point was no good, but still the Tigers only trailed by four with 5:32 to play.
Hand coach Steve Filippone elected to kick the ball deep figuring that with all three timeouts remaining, the Tigers had a chance to get the ball back.
Wells, with a major-league assist from Shelton’s offensive line, made certain that never happened.
“I give him a lot of credit,” Shelton coach Jeff Roy said. “We didn’t give him a lot of reps at all because with (receiver/cornerback Chris) Kanios (injured), he is our starting corner and he is also in the rotation at receiver, so he didn’t get many reps at quarterback, but he went into the game without getting many reps and performs like that. It was one heck of a job by him that is for sure.”
Alex Kirk, who had 10 tackles in the win, isn’t targeted in the passing game as much as his teammates, but he was the receiver on the biggest pass play of the game.
“I was open, trying to get around the safety and get down, just win the game,” Kirk said. “We have a lot of mottos but next man up, we play with what we’ve got We feel we are the best team in the league no matter who we have on the field so it is next man up.”
— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) November 7, 2015
Hand (5-3) got into the red zone on three occasions in the second half, but only managed to come away with the one score.
“We came up a couple yards short down there,” Filippone said. “It has been our problem from day one, our red-zone production is just not what it needs to be and it has really killed us all year. We are a spread offense and we really don’t have that red-zone package where we are going to just line up and pound you the way some people do.”
Roy said that Tuskowski will have x-rays on his foot on Saturday to see the severity of the injury.
SHELTON 17, HAND 13
Hand 0 7 0 6-13
Shelton 7 7 0 3-17
S-Pete Hoff 1 run (Joe Zoppi kick)
H-Ryan Kaufmann 10 pass from Nick Van Dell (Pedro Sander kick)
S-Sam Kirk 19 pass from David Wells (Zoppi kick)
S-Zoppi 22 field goal
H-Reid Schweizer 6 run (kick failed)
Records: Hand 5-3; S 8-0