A Shelton High School football team with great expectations for the 2018 season narrowly avoided an upset in its opener Friday night.
The sixth-ranked Gaels, returning most of their starters from a 9-2 team, needed a Jake Breton forced fumble and Jake Falanga recovery deep in Cheshire territory to set up an eight-yard Jake Roberts’ touchdown run on the next play to beat Cheshire 17-10 in a Southern Connecticut Conference Tier I contest
The Shelton “home” game was played at at McHugh Field on the Xavier High campus in Middletown, roughly an hour’s drive from Shelton High, due to renovations at Finn Stadium.
The 300 combined Cheshire and Shelton fans who made the trip to Middletown saw a closely contested game that appeared headed to overtime, after Shelton’s Nick Andrade punted to the Ram 14 with just over a minute to go.
Cheshire looked content to run the ball and take its chances in overtime, but the Gaels had other ideas.
“We told the kids, we got them down there, they’re probably going to run the ball and play for overtime,” said Shelton coach Jeff Roy. “Go in there and try and make a turnover.”
That’s what the Gaels did, with Breton forcing the Cheshire quarterback to fumble and Falanga opportunistically pouncing on the loose ball at the Cheshire 8-yard line.
“I’ll give credit to (defensive coordinator) Dan] Duna and the defensive guys for working on strip drills,” said Roy. “It just doesn’t happen. You work on things, and when the time came, the kids made the play.”
On the ensuing play, Roberts, who hadn’t run all game given that he wasn’t 100 percent after suffering an injury during the Ansonia scrimmage last week, kept the ball himself.
With Isaiah DeLoatch, Breton, Kyle Corby, Ray Weiner and David Youngquist leading the way, Roberts bounced off a would-be tackler at the four and scampered across the goal line for the game-winning touchdown with 1:03 to play.
“We weren’t planning on running him, but at the end of the game I said we gotta win the game,” said Roy of his senior quarterback. “They don’t come any tougher…He got the ball in the end zone and we were able to get out of here with the victory.”
Falanga added his second interception of the night with 43 seconds to go to seal the win.
Shelton never trailed, and had leads of 7-0 and 10-7, but was never able to shake away from the Rams, 6-4 a year ago.
Trying different things at quarterback to limit Roberts’ playing time, the Gael offense never found any consistency after a 15-play, 72-yard touchdown drive to open the game.
Shelton amassed just 182 offensive yards on the night.
The defense, meanwhile, played very well, giving up just the 10 points.
“The defense did a great job,” Roy said. “You give up 10 points, in today’s day and age of football, it’s not like the old days, you should win every game.”
Junior Michael Lockavitch paved the way with 10 tackles.
Offensively, Roberts completed 9-of-18 passes for 69 yards and was intercepted once.
Junior Georgio Ghazal breathed some life into the Shelton rushing attack in the second half with all eight of his carries for 59 yards.
Michai Lynch Barnes scored Shelton’s first touchdown of the night on a 14-yard run out of the wildcat formation.
Andrade kicked a 35-yard field goal and two PATs for the Gaels.
It will be back to the drawing board this weekend for Shelton, which hosts Xavier on Thursday night in a 7 p.m. game that will be played at West Haven High School.
“We gotta get back at it and get some consistency in practice and hopefully get healthy and get this thing going,” said Roy. “We’ve got to get better. But we came out of here with a win and the bottom line is we are 1-0. The first game is always tough.”