It is a matchup that dates back to the early 1900s — think leather helmets — and has seen both towns dominate for long stretches.
Shelton-Derby is Valley football and a Thanksgiving tradition.
On Turkey Day morning, the Shelton Gaels will try to earn another victory when the Red Raiders visit Finn Stadium for a 10:30 kickoff.
This will be Derby’s first game on Shelton’s new turf field, but far from its first visit to Shelton.
According to the Derby-Shelton Rotary Club website, derby-sheltonrotary.org, Shelton leads the all-time series with a win-loss-tie mark of 56-43-7.
Derby last came out on top back in 2002. Games haven’t been close since the 2011 and ’12 seasons when the Gaels won by 26-19 and 27-21 scores.
Shelton head coach Jeff Roy has been a part of the rivalry for a pretty big portion of its history, about three decades worth, in fact, both on the field and along the sidelines.
Roy played for Shelton in the early 1980s. He became an assistant coach for 10 years before taking over head coaching duties 15 years ago.
“I look forward to this game and this holiday every year,” Roy said. “I have been involved in this game almost my entire life and really enjoy the rivalry. Fantastic tradition, it is always great to see the former players and coaches at this time every year. Very special matchup. I have a lot of great memories from this game over the years, as both a player and a coach.”
Roy got his first taste of Valley football back when he was in middle school and attended a clash between Ansonia and Derby that drew somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 fans.
“I had moved to Shelton from Bridgeport as a kid and had no idea what Valley football was all about until I went to this game,” Roy said.
He became the Shelton High quarterback and the rest is history.
The rivalry was much more competitive back then. In Roy’s junior year of 1983, Shelton beat Derby 7-3, the Gaels’ first win in the annual matchup since 1977. “Derby had our number for many years. It was a huge win for the Shelton football program,” Roy said.
In his senior campaign, 1984, both teams were 8-0 and played for the Housatonic League title. Roy and the Gales won again, prevailing 21-7. “Great game, awesome atmosphere — 12,000-15,000 attended the game,” Roy recalls.
Derby has struggled in this matchup in recent memory. Last year’s 49-8 triumph is reflective of just how lopsided it’s been in the past almost decade.
“There are probably many reasons, but I would say the main reason is school size,” Roy said of the lopsided outcomes. Shelton is a Class LL school and Derby competes in Class S.
“The rivalry is still very intense, even though they may not have won many games recently, they have always played us tough,” Roy said. “Derby is a great football program that has a lot of pride in their team.”
Derby, which competes in the Naugatuck Valley League’s Copper Division, comes into the game with a 4-5 record.
Shelton, of the Southern Connecticut Conference, is 9-0 and the top-ranked team in Class LL.
Led by quarterback Jake Roberts, the Gaels have racked up point totals in the 40s four times, plus put up a 38 spot against Xavier of Middletown. Roberts has thrown 14 touchdown passes and rushed for another nine scores.
The Gaels are a perennial state title contender; they reached the pinnacle game in 2014 and 2015, and are looking to get back there this fall.
Shelton will begin state playoff action on Tuesday with the quarterfinal round. The semis are Sunday, Dec. 2, with the championship on Saturday, Dec 8.
“Luckily, this year we are healthy heading into the playoffs unlike other years,” Roy said. “We need to remain healthy and stay sharp. We are playing our best football right now and are peaking at the right time.”