Shelton High football coach Jeff Roy couldn’t have scripted the first 12-plus minutes of his team’s season opener with Cheshire High to go much better than it did.
The Gaels scored on two of their first three possessions, and added a safety on special teams, to take a 16-0 advantage just 20 seconds into the second quarter.
But the script turned into a horror film for the Gaels, who were stunned by 30 straight Cheshire points in a 30-23 loss before about 1,500 fans at the Maclary Complex in Cheshire.
Shelton starts the season 0-1 and already finds itself in serious jeopardy of failing to qualify for the Class LL state playoffs for the fifth straight year, with games still remaining against the likes of top-ranked Xavier of Middletown and second-ranked Hand of Madison.
But Roy and the Gaels have more pressing needs than worrying about playoffs at this stage.
Better tackling leads the list of many areas Shelton needs to improve upon, before Friday night’s home opener against Foran of Milford (0-1). Kickoff at Finn Stadium is set for 7 p.m.
The Lions lost a 55-34 decision to seventh-ranked Hillhouse of New Haven in its opener.
“We missed a lot of tackles,” Roy said. “A lot of times, guys were in position, but didn’t make the tackles. That hurt us. That allowed [Cheshire] back in it.”
Shelton’s tackling issues became a major problem shortly after the Gaels took a 16-0 lead on a four-yard touchdown run by junior running back Jagger Kalagian.
Kalagian plowed his way into the end zone behind the blocking of Jacob Grosso, Kyle Drost and Christopher Sinko.
Ed Groth’s kickoff pinned Cheshire back at its 18-yard line, and the Gaels appeared to have all the momentum on their side. But that switched quickly.
On second-and-eight from the Ram 20, Cheshire quarterback Vincent Sansone completed a 15-yard pass to a wide-open Kevin Dietrich.
On the next play from scrimmage, fullback Sam Pascale broke free on a 65-yard touchdown run that included a couple of missed tackles. The Rams added a two-point conversion on a Sansone keeper, and all of a sudden, the Shelton lead had been cut in half, 16-8.
Shelton was forced to punt on its ensuing possession, and the Rams took over on their 22-yard line.
A long run deep into Shelton territory was negated by a holding penalty, and on the next play, the Gael defense turned in their best play of the night with Christian Federicci stripping the ball from the Cheshire running back and Kalagian recovering the fumble at the Ram 26.
An 11-yard run on a reverse by Michael Pingree moved the ball to the Cheshire 15, but Kalagian (12 carries, 60 yards) was then stopped for no gain.
A delay of game penalty cost Shelton five yards, Connor Wallon threw an incompletion, and a holding penalty set Shelton back another 14 yards to the 34.
On third-and-29, Wallon’s long heave missed its mark and the Gaels were forced to punt on a possession that seemed destined for a field-goal try at the very least.
“That was a big series,” Roy said. “We weren’t able to capitalize on the turnover.”
Groth pinned Cheshire back to its six-yard line, but it didn’t matter. The Rams needed just nine plays to cover the 94 yards thanks in large part to a couple of Shelton penalties and more missed tackles.
Sansone converted the touchdown on a five-yard keeper with 57 seconds left in the first half. Jack Cunningham added the conversion run, and Cheshire had come all the way back to knot the score at 16-16.
Things went from bad to worse for Shelton in the opening minute of the second half.
On Cheshire’s first play from scrimmage, Pascale turned a simple run up the middle into a 71-yard gain to the Shelton three.
Two plays later, he capped the drive with an eight-yard touchdown run. Cheshire failed to convert the PAT, but still led 22-16 with 10:33 left in the third quarter.
After rotating Wallon, Groth and Mark Piccirillo at quarterback in the first half, Roy chose to stay exclusively with Wallon on the first two drives of the second half.
Shelton mustered four first downs in the two drives, but