SHELTON — Smash-mouth football has been a part of the Shelton football identity for decades and on Friday against Norwich Free Academy, the Gaels put on one of their best displays of that rugged philosophy.
Led by their three-headed monster in the backfield, fifth-ranked Shelton churned out 356 yards rushing in a 41-20 victory over the Wildcats at Finn Stadium. Georgio Ghazal led the charge with 23 carries for 186 yards and two touchdowns, Tyler Pjatak added 120 yards and three touchdowns and Michai Lynch Barnes chipped in with 50 yards and a score.
“We’ve been pounding the ball,” Ghazal said. “Our motto this year is ‘Whatever it takes.’ We will do whatever it takes to win.”
Shelton (3-0) took control of the contest during a three-minute span midway through the first quarter.
— John Pierson (@JPPierson) September 28, 2019
After the teams traded three-and-outs on their opening possessions, Shelton established the bruising Ghazal. The senior carried six times for 49 yards on a nine-play, 60-yard scoring drive, punching in a direct snap behind Shelton’s massive line with 6:08 left in the quarter.
“They’ve been busting their butts… Without them I wouldn’t be doing that and neither would the other running backs,” Ghazal said.
The Gaels then recovered an onside kick, with Ken Walsh pouncing on the loose ball at the NFA 49.
Then it was Pjatak’s turn to gash the Wildcat defense, as he carried it three straight times for 49 yards. The third attempt resulted in a 9-yard touchdown run around the right side, pushing the Shelton margin to 12-0 at the 5:04 mark.
“We thought we could run the ball against them and we wanted to establish it,” Shelton head coach Jeff Roy said. “All three of them ran hard… We wanted to keep the ball out of their hands because they are an explosive offense.”
On NFA’s next drive, senior quarterback Austin Richards, who passed for a school-record 482 yards last week, suffered a lower-body injury on a scramble. He did not return.
“For us, it’s always, no matter what position, next man up,” NFA head coach Jason Bakoulis said. “We always have 100 percent faith in that next person.”
Pjatak then roared in from 8 yards out, extending the Gaels’ second-quarter advantage to 19-0, before NFA responded.
Xavier Marquez got the Wildcats on the scoreboard with a 58-yard scoring run with 3:07 left in the half, giving NFA some momentum heading into the break.
Just 50 seconds into the third, NFA backup quarterback Jakob Hosko hit Andrew Cote, who made a slew of defenders miss en route to a 78-yard touchdown that kept NFA within striking distance.
That was as close as the Wildcats would get though, as the Gaels got 2-yard scoring runs from Pjatak and Michai Lynch Barnes sandwiched around a three-and-out, keyed by a sack from linebacker Michael Lockavitch — who wrecked havoc on the NFA offensive line all night.
“They hit some plays on us,” Roy said. “But we’ve responded all year when a team scores on us. We came back with a nice drive… We continued to move the ball up and down the field on them. We kind of wore them out there at the end.”
The teams traded fourth-quarter scores, with Ghazal cashing in from a yard out and Hosko hitting Cote from 14 yards as time expired.
“He (Hosko) did everything he could in this game, without a doubt,” Bakoulis said.