The Shelton High football team has proved it can play with the best in the Southern Connecticut Conference this season. It just hasn’t been able to beat any of them.
The Gaels outplayed defending Class LL state champion Xavier for three-plus quarters Friday night before the Falcons stunned Shelton with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns, including the game-winner with just nine seconds left, to hand them a 15-12 defeat before 1,000 fans at Palmer Field in Middletown.
It was the second heartbreaking loss for Shelton (6-3, overall, 2-2 in the SCC Division I West) in the last three weeks.
Two weeks ago, Hand (6-3) scored nine points in the final 3:45 to defeat Shelton 44-41 at Finn Stadium.
The Gaels also lost a 38-28 decision to Fairfield Prep (7-2) at Finn Stadium earlier in the season, leaving Shelton 0-3 against the best SCC teams it has faced so far this season.
The Xavier loss ended Shelton’s chances of gaining a share of the SCC Division I West crown, and all but ended the team’s Class LL playoff hopes.
Shelton coach Jeff Roy struggled to put the crushing defeat into words.
“Our kids played as hard as they can play,” he said. “They just can’t seem to make a play when they need to. It’s been the story all year.”
Friday night’s game was Shelton’s to win. The Gael defense played almost flawlessly over the game’s first 38 minutes, keeping the Falcons off the scoreboard and forcing turnovers on three of Xavier’s first four possessions of the second half.
Shelton took a 12-0 lead midway through the third quarter, capitalizing on a Kyle Drost fumble recovery at mid-field.
The offense cashed in on the Xavier miscue with Mark Piccirillo eventually scoring behind left tackle Christopher Pawlowski on a fourth-and-goal from the one.
But the Gaels, who had their first PAT blocked, failed on what would turn out to be a crucial two-point conversion try.
At the time, the Gael defense was in complete control. Mike Pingree picked off a pass on Xavier’s next possession. Shelton forced Xavier to punt on its third series, and Kevin Robinson recorded an interception early in the fourth quarter.
But the Shelton offense was not able to deliver a likely decisive blow by scoring a third touchdown. The Gaels went three-and-out on three straight possessions.
The last one left Xavier with the ball at its 33-yard line. Xavier quarterback Joe Carbone broke off runs of 13 and 32 yards to move the ball inside the Shelton 10. Carbone capped the drive himself with a one-yard keeper. The Falcons added the PAT to pull within 12-7 with 7:28 left.
Needing to come back to life, the Shelton offense picked up three first downs on its next possession, including a 27-yard Piccirillo-to-Pingree pass on third-and-12 that moved the ball to the Xavier 38.
Consecutive illegal motion penalties on first-and-10 stalled the drive, and the Gaels were forced to punt. Shelton was penalized nine times on the night.
“The penalties didn’t help, but that’s not what lost the game,” said Roy. “We just needed to make a few more plays.”
The Gaels punted from the Falcons 48, and Robinson hit a beauty that was downed at the Xavier two-yard line with 2:40 left. Xavier needed to drive the length of the field with no time outs remaining.
Carbone completed a 37-yard pass on second-and-8 to get the Falcons out of the shadow of their own goal line. A 5-yard face mask penalty two plays later helped Xavier pick up another first down.
Xavier eventually had a first down at the Shelton 19 with one minute left.
A 2-yard run and a pair of incompletions left Xavier facing a fourth-and-8 from the Gael 17 with 39 seconds left.
Carbone dropped back to pass and had enough time to eventually find Andrew Meoli for a 13-yard gain to the Gael 4-yard line with 27 seconds left.
After Carbone spiked the ball to stop the clock, the Falcons were flagged for an illegal substitution, moving the ball back to the Shelton nine-yard line with 24 seconds remaining.
Carbone threw incomplete on second down.
On third down, he rolled to his left then quickly pulled the ball down and headed for the goal line.
Pingree hit Carbone at the one, but Carbone’s momentum allowed him to barely cross the goal line for the game-winning score with nine seconds left.
“We’re better than a 6-and-3 team,” said Roy.
Shelton will have a chance to prove that and knock off perhaps the SCC’s best team when it travels to West Haven Friday night to take on the 8-1 Blue Devils.
But the task of upsetting the Westies will be that much more difficult after standout running back and linebacker Jason Thompson suffered a broken collarbone late in the Xavier loss.
Even if the Gaels are able to knock off West Haven and then Derby on Thanksgiving Day, it looks doubtful that Shelton, now 13th in Class LL, would move back up to the top eight of the Class LL standings and qualify for the playoffs.
Thompson rushed 16 times for 73 yards and scored Shelton’s first touchdown on a 46-yard run early in the first quarter.
Piccirillo was the Gael work horse, carrying the ball 24 times for 110 yards and a touchdown. He also completed 7-of-9 passes for 91 yard.
Shelton has lost to Xavier six straight times
Piccirillo has rushed for 14 touchdowns on the season, and thrown for another 14.