Things went from good to bad to worse in a hurry for second-seeded Shelton High in its Class LL quarterfinal matchup against seventh-seeded West Haven on Tuesday night.
A host of Shelton mistakes coupled with some big West Haven plays saw a 7-0 Shelton lead early in the second quarter quickly go up in smoke in a 46-7 loss before 1,500 at Finn Stadium.
Shelton finishes its season 9-2.
West Haven (9-2), also a Southern Connecticut Conference Tier 1 team, moves on to play No. 3 seed and defending Class LL champion Darien in a semifinal on Sunday at 12:30 p.m.
“They came and they played very well, and we made a lot of mistakes,” said Shelton head coach Jeff Roy, whose team defeated the Blue Devils 38-28 in West Haven on Oct. 27. “You make mistakes against a good team like that and the thing starts snowballing. We just made way too many mistakes, turnovers, and you’re not going to get away with those mistakes against them.”
You wouldn’t know it by the final margin, but the Gaels had the better of play in the game’s first 14 minutes. They led 7-0 on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Jake Roberts to Georgio Ghazal on the game’s opening drive.
The Shelton defense had seemingly stopped a West Haven scoring threat early in the second quarter, but Shelton was flagged for a personal foul on a fourth down incompletion, giving the Westies new life at the Gael five-yard line.
West Haven made Shelton pay for the mistake, with Chris Chance scoring from a yard out on 4th-and-goal. Jake Falanga blocked the West Haven PAT to keep it a 7-6 Shelton lead.
The Gael offense seemed on its way to answering the West Haven score on its ensuing possession.
With 2nd-and-seven at the West Haven 26, the Gaels tried a flea-flicker. West Haven defensive back Kyle Godfrey raced back in time to step in front of the Shelton receiver and pick the ball off deep in his own end zone, and then returned it all the way to the Shelton 20.
“Give Godfrey credit,” said Roy. “He came off on the back side. I thought we had the play and he just made a heck of a play. He came out of nowhere. That was a huge play.”
West Haven cashed in on the turnover four plays later, again scoring on fourth down, this time on a 14-yard touchdown pass from Jake Conlan to Chance. The Blue Devils also converted the two-point conversion to make it 14-7 with 2:11 left in the first half.
Had Shelton been able to get a quick answer or even get to halftime down just one score, maybe things would have turned out differently. But a fumble on the ensuing kick return compounded Shelton’s problems, as the Westies again made Shelton pay with a 2-yard Godfrey touchdown run just 32 second later for a 20-7 lead.
“We’re up 7-0. We had that personal foul penalty, and they scored,” said Roy. “The two plays right before the half, the interception [and ensuing touchdown] and we fumbled [the kickoff], they pumped another one in and they got the momentum going after that. You can’t make those mistakes against good teams.”
Trailing by a couple scores to start the third quarter, the Gaels needed to play one of their best halves of the year to keep their season alive.
Unfortunately for Shelton, it just got worse, much worse.
Shelton’s four third-quarter possessions went like this: three-and-out, three-and-out, interception, interception.
Meanwhile, West Haven kept lighting up the scoreboard on touchdown runs covering 44, 98, 2 and 1 yard to take a 45-7 lead five seconds into the fourth quarter.
Spearheaded by Roberts (11-of-25 passing, 149 yards, 1 TD, 3 interceptions, 11 carries for 72 yards), the Gael offense showed signs of life on a fourth quarter drive, but it ended on a failed fourth down conversion at the West Haven 13.
It was a difficult end to what was otherwise a great season for the Gaels, who managed nine straight wins and an SCC Tier 1 first-place finish and fourth straight state playoff appearance in between season opening and ending losses.
“I’m proud of our kids. It was a good year,” said Roy.
Shelton graduates 11 seniors, but will have many starters back next season, and perhaps some extra motivation after Tuesday’s night’s bad loss.
Said Roy, “It will be a motivated group going forward.”