WEST HAVEN >> Marshont Little spent his freshman and sophomore years at Wilbur Cross. After transferring to West Haven and putting on the Westie blue, he had visions of reaching the postseason.
Little left little to chance.
Intercepting two Shelton passes, including one at the West Haven 12 with the Gaels looking to take the lead with 7 minutes remaining, Little helped the Westies to a 35-26 victory in a Southern Connecticut Conference Division I battle at Ken Strong Stadium Friday night.
“I have never been to the postseason before,” Little said after also rushing for a pair of scores. “We just had to make a play. We got that halftime speech and made the plays in the second half.”
With the win, West Haven, ranked No. 4 in the Register Top 10 poll, improved to 9-1 and unofficially clinched a playoff berth. Shelton, which continues to fall on hard luck, fell to 6-4 after giving the Westies all they could handle.
“When we walked off that field in Greenwich, who would have thought we would clinch before Thanksgiving?” West Haven coach Ed McCarthy said in reference to a brutal season-opening loss. “We are in the dance. It is a credit to these kids. They have worked very hard.”
West Haven led 13-0 at the end of the first quarter before Shelton exploded for 20 points in the second to get within 21-20 at the break.
With all the momentum on Shelton’s side going into halftime, West Haven responded on the opening drive of the third quarter when Little rushed in from 3 yards out to cap a seven-play, 65-yard drive just 2 minutes, 14 seconds after intermission to give the Westies a 28-20 lead.
The Gaels, as they did at the end of the first half, wasted no time and scored on a 12-play, 80-yard drive on a 21-yard scoring strike from Mark Piccirillo to Shane Corcoran. Shelton went for the tie but was stopped on the two-point conversion, and West Haven held a 28-26 advantage with 5:10 left in the third.
“They would not go away,” McCarthy said of the Gaels. “They are a very proud program. They have lost some tough games. They gave us all we could handle.”
Shelton appeared to be going in for the go-ahead score as the fourth quarter began, but Little had other ideas as he picked off Piccirillo with 6:58remaining. West Haven took over and Duane Gary found the end zone on a 9-yard score 3:37 later to provide the final margin of victory.
“We are really disappointed in our record, but not in our play,” Shelton coach Jeff Roy said. “We have come out and battled every Friday night. The kids never stopped fighting. They never blinked.
“They have some great backs over there. They are tough to stop.”
The Gaels attempted a 31-yard field goal with 48 seconds remaining in hopes cutting it to a one-possession game and getting the ball back on an onside kick. When Joe Zoppi’s kick sailed wide, West Haven escaped with the win.
“It certainly was that type of (playoff) atmosphere,” McCarthy said. “Piccirillo was unbelievable. He put the ball where he wanted to all game. We have a lot of guts. Marshont came up with two big interceptions and he kept them honest up the middle. He played a great game.”
The game started in fine fashion for the Westies as a combination of good defense and an opportunistic offense helped the team to a quick 13-0 lead.
Just four plays into the game, Little intercepted Piccirillo to give the Westies the ball at the Shelton 43. Seven plays later, Ervin Philips put the Westies on the scoreboard with a 20-yard touchdown run.
West Haven forced the Gaels to punt on their next possession and the Westies needed just three plays to take a 13-0 lead. Gary hit Tayvon Gibbs for a 22-yard gain and Little capped the 44-yard drive with a 7-yard score.
The Gaels had no offense to speak of in the opening quarter, gaining just 31 yards, but the second quarter was a different story. After stopping the Westies on fourth down at the Shelton 13 with 4 minutes left in the first half, the Gaels turned the game around with three scores in the final 3 minutes.
Piccirillo hit Michael Pingree with a 77-yard strike down the left sideline to cut the deficit to 13-7 with 2:48 left in the half. The Westies answered right back, needing just two plays and 15 seconds to push the lead to 21-7. Gary hit Zatrell Lyons for a 41-yard gain and Philips scored from 6 yards out. Gary ran in the two-point conversion.
Piccirillo then hit Pingree for a touchdown from 25 yards out with 48 seconds to go. On the ensuing kickoff, the Gaels squibbed it and recovered the ball on the West Haven 20. Three plays later, Piccirillo ran in from 1 yard out to make it 21-20. Gary blocked Zoppi’s extra point.
Piccirillo finished 19 of 28 for 287 yards and three touchdowns, also running for one score.
Philips ran for 133 yards and two scores on 22 carries, while Gary had 90 yards on the ground for West Haven.
West Haven 35, Shelton 26
(at West Haven)
Shelton 0 20 6 0 0 — 26
West Haven 13 8 7 7 0 — 35
W—Ervin Philips 20 run (Tayvon Gibbs kick)
W—Marshont Little 7 run (Kick failed)
S—Mike Pingree 77 pass from Mark Piccirillo (Joe Zoppi kick)
W—Ervin Philips 6 run (Duane Gary run)
S—Mike Pingree 25 pass from Mark Piccirillo (Zoppi kick)
S—Mark Piccirillo 1 run (Kick blocked)
W—Marshont Little 3 run (Gibbs kick)
S—Shane Corcoran 21 pass from Mark Piccirillo (Pass failed)?Fourth quarter
W—Duane Gary 9 run (Gibbs kick)
Team records: West Haven 9-1; Shelton 6-4