RIDGEFIELD — Even though it trailed by seven, the Wilton football team was able to enter halftime believing that its 22-game winless streak against arch-rival Ridgefield might come to an end Friday night.
The Warriors had controlled the first half, moving the ball at will and holding No. 7 Ridgefield to 11 plays on offense. Wilton, not the Tigers, was its own worst enemy: the Warriors failed to convert time-consuming drives by misfiring on a fourth-down pass, missing a field goal, and throwing an interception at the Ridgefield 5-yard line.
But hopes of a breakthrough win to ruin Ridgefield’s homecoming fizzled in the second half. The undefeated Tigers (5-0) asserted themselves on the offensive and defensive lines to gain control and score 14 unanswered points for a 21-0 triumph.
The victory kept Ridgefield unbeaten (22-0-1) in its last 23 games against Wilton, dating back to the 1996 season. The teams played to a 7-7 tie in the 1999 season opener, which was Kevin Callahan’s first game as Ridgefield’s head coach.
Wilton began Friday’s game by taking the opening kickoff and moving down the field behind the running of Kyle Phillips and several completions from quarterback Jimmy O’Brien. But on a fourth down from the Ridgefield 23, O’Brien overthrew wide receiver Kyle Hyzy.
The Warriors (3-2) got the ball back quickly and went on another long drive that bore no points, with Parker Woodring unable to hit a 36-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
A few plays later, it was Ridgefield that scored first. Quarterback Owen Matthews connected with Gianni Gorham for a 45-yard gain down to the Wilton 40, and on the next play Matthews lateraled to Declan McNamara, who heaved a 40-yard touchdown pass to Owen Gaydos.
Adam Biernat’s extra point put the Tigers ahead 7-0 with 9:36 left in the half.
Most of that time was occupied by another Wilton drive that came to a frustrating conclusion for the visitors. With the ball at the Ridgefield 9-yard line, O’Brien threw a pass for Hyzy that cornerback Alex Hanna intercepted at his own 5.
“I saw him (Hyzy) line up inside … he looked at his (play) band and took a few more steps inside so I kind of guessed that it was an out route and just jumped it,” said the 5-foot-9 Hanna, who offered more proof throughout the game of why he is arguably the FCIAC’s best cornerback. “I guarded (Hyzy) last year and I studied the film from last year and their games this year, so I knew something about him. He’s a big guy (6-foot-3) and I’m obviously not … they kept trying to test me but they didn’t get much out of it.”
“Wilton tried a bunch of different things in the first half to show the depth of their offensive ability,” Callahan said about the Warriors. “But they found a couple of things they always do well and that started hurting us. We made some adjustments at halftime that worked in the second half and allowed us to stop them and also keep the ball on offense.”
More frustration followed for Wilton early in the third quarter — this time courtesy of the officials. On what appeared to be a forward swing pass, O’Brien missed Phillips and Ridgefield’s Jack Dowd fell on the ball at the Wilton 37. When the officials ruled the play a fumble recovery for the Tigers, the Wilton coaches erupted in vehement disbelief, but to no avail.
Matthews then lofted a perfectly placed 15-yard touchdown pass to Gorham in the left corner of the end zone, and Biernat’s extra point gave the Tigers a 14-0 advantage.
Ridgefield’s offensive line and ground game did the rest. With backs Kai Prohaszka and Danny Moroney taking turns running behind a line that pushed Wilton backwards, the Tigers were able to control the clock.
“They are a nice little change-up because Kai is a slashing, athletic kid and Danny goes out there and pounds you,” Callahan said.
Ridgefield added to its lead when Prohaszka burst into the end zone on a 4-yard run with 7:29 left to play. Biernat’s extra point made it 21-0, ending both the scoring and Wilton’s hopes of a long-awaited rivalry reversal.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Wilton head coach EJ DiNunzio said. “We dominated the first half and they dominated the second. Our problem was we couldn’t punch the ball in for scores and they did. We just couldn’t take advantage of our opportunities.”