DERBY — The Shelton football team won the battle but lost the war Thursday.
The Gaels beat Derby 35-0 at Ryan Field in front of an estimated crowd of 650 in the 109th meeting between the schools. It was Shelton’s 17th straight win over the Red Raiders, and 20th in the last 21 games.
But Shelton (7-3) fell just short of qualifying for the CIAC playoffs for the first time since 2013.
Making it more painful is Norwich Free Academy, a team Shelton beat convincingly earlier in the season, was the school that edged out the Gaels for the final Class LL playoff spot.
“Yeah, we beat NFA pretty good,” said Shelton coach Jeff Roy. “It’s tough to see them go in front of us, but that’s the way the point system works.”
Its fate sealed before kickoff, the Gaels took out their disappointment on Derby (2-8).
The Gaels took the game’s opening kickoff and needed just four plays to score all the points they would need, as senior tri-captain Georgio Ghazal ran 48 yards untouched for Shelton’s first touchdown 2:14 into the game.
Cristiano Rosa added his first of five PATs for a 7-0 Shelton lead.
The Gaels would capitalize on their next three offensive possessions, too.
Game Most Valuable Player Tyler Pjatak scored his first of three rushing touchdowns from 5-yards out, running over a Derby defender in the process, to make it 14-0.
Shelton back-up quarterback Michael Callinan connected with David Niski on a 42-yard catch-and-run for Shelton’s third touchdown, and Pjatak bulled his way in from a yard out for a 28-0 Shelton lead with 7:10 left in the first half.
Shelton’s halftime lead might have been larger if not for Derby senior tri-captain Julian Delarosa intercepting a pass in the Red Raider end zone late in the second quarter.
Pjatak added the game’s final score mid-way through the third quarter on a 15-yard run.
“It’s awesome,” said Pjatak, a senior tri-captain. “I didn’t want anything other than this, to go out on top with all my best friends and all my brothers.”
Derby, which had struggled just to keep enough kids healthy to play through most of the season, fought an uphill battle all day against its Class LL counterpart.
“Our kids played hard. I have no complaints,” said Derby coach George French. “We had 23 (players) today. It’s the most we’ve had in six weeks. So, I was telling the kids, we won with 17 against Kennedy. What are we going to do with 23?”
But 23 players weren’t enough as the Red Raiders were never able to put together a sustained offensive drive, failing to cross midfield.
The Shelton defense was led by Michael Lockavitch who recorded his 21st sack of the season and 37th of his career, both school records.
Michai Lynch Barnes and Dylan Witkowski recovered Derby fumbles, while tri-captain Jake Oddo recorded an interception.
Roy gave credit to his senior class for leading Shelton to its 14th-straight winning season.
“These seniors, they laid it out on the field all year,” said Roy. “We battled all year. We had the toughest schedule in the state, but unfortunately came up a little short of making the playoffs.”
DERBY-SHELTON SERIES NOTES
Shelton leads the series 59-43-7 … The first Derby-Shelton football game on Thanksgiving was held in 1914 … Shelton is 30-6-1 against Derby over the last 37 meetings … Derby’s last victory over Shelton came in a 13-12 win on the frozen Finn Stadium turf in 2002 … Derby’s last home victory in the series was in 1993 when the Red Raiders won on a late field goal, 9-6 … Shelton’s average margin of victory over Derby the last seven years is more than 43 points (354 points to Derby’s 49).
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Tyler Pjatak, Shelton: Pjatak led a balanced Shelton offensive attack with 115 yards and 3 TDs on 15 carries. Not initially expected to be a primary ball carrier for the Gaels this season, Pjatak finished the season with 1,166 rushing yards and 20 TDs to lead the Gaels.
“They’re a great team. They’re a couple plays away from [the LL playoffs],” said Derby coach George French of the Gaels. “So, you tip your hat off to them. They did a great job as they always do.”