Westies turn back Gaels in thriller (Updated)

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Michael Pingree (14) produced on both sides of the ball for Shelton High in its 35-26 loss to West Haven High on Friday night. Pingree caught five passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns, rushed for 28 yards and made six tackles on defense for the Gaels. (Bill Bloxsom)

The Shelton High football team battled hard against West Haven High on Friday night, but the Westies made enough plays to hold on for a 35-26 SCC Division I win.

The Gaels dropped to 6-4 and will face Derby High (5-5) on Thanksgiving Day at 10:30 a.m. at Lou DeFilippo Field in their annual rivalry game.

West Haven, the state’s third-ranked team, improved to 9-1.

Junior quarterback Paul Piccirillo threw a pair of touchdown passes (77 and 25 yards) to Michael Pingree and another to Shane Corcoran (21 yards). Piccirillo also rushed for a 1-yard score for Shelton.

“We had a lot of sophomores and young kids out there today,” Shelton coach Jeff Roy said. “We had a few injuries. We didn’t quit, we came out and we were down 13-0 and the kids came storming back… We’re really proud of these kids, they played tremendously hard tonight, showed a lot of heart.”

Fullback Marshont Little and tailback Ervin Phillips rushed for two touchdown each for West Haven, while quarterback Duane Gary ran for another. Little also intercepted two passes on defense.

Little’s second interception came with 6:58 left in the game, with Shelton driving for a potential go-ahead score.

Piccirillo, who completed 19-of-28 passes for 287 yards, picked up a second-and-long with a 28-yard strike to Pingree.

After an illegal motion penalty on the Gaels, Little made a sprawling nab on Piccirillo’s pass along the left sideline.

“We were in a two-point game going for the lead in the fourth quarter with a chance to win the football game,” Roy said. “They did everything we asked of them.”

Taking over on their own 24, the Westies rolled 76 yards in eight plays for an insurance-providing touchdown. Gary provided the key play of the possession, scrambling 34 yards to set up a first-and-goal inside Shelton’s 6-yard line.

Two plays later, Gary’s 9-yard run pushed the West Haven margin to 35-26 following Tayvon Gibbs’ conversion kick with 3:21 left to play.

The Gaels looked to narrow their gap on their ensuing possession.

Peter Hoff, Drost and Pingree hauled in receptions from Piccirillo, as Shelton breached Blue Devil territory.

But, the drive stalled following a loss of three yards on a screen pass to Hoff and two incompletions. Joe Zoppi then hooked a 31-yard field goal attempt.

West Haven took over and ran the clock out, reeling off its ninth straight victory following a season-opening 22-21 loss to Greenwich High.

Early on, the Blue Devils looked to be on their way to pinning a lopsided defeat on the injury-riddled Gaels.

Little halted a promising Shelton advance on the game’s opening drive, picking off a tipped Piccirillo pass and returning it to the Gael 43.

The Syracuse-bound Phillips, who carried 22 times for 133 yards, staked West Haven to a 7-0 margin with a 20-yard sprint off the right side.

Gibbs knocked down the PAT at the 7:08 mark of the first quarter.

After an empty possession by the Gaels, Little capped a three-play, 44-yard scoring drive with a 7-yard touchdown run through the middle of the Shelton defense. The kick failed, but West Haven pushed its lead to 13-0.

Shelton went three-and-out after taking over, before Chris Schiffer strung together two tackles for losses, followed by another from Marquet Humphrey, to force the Westies’ first punt of the game.

Neither team capitalized on their defensive stops, until the Gaels held West Haven on downs at their own 14 with 3:26 remaining in the half.

Following a 10-yard pass to Drost, Piccirillo went over the top to a streaking Pingree in single coverage for a 77-yard catch-and-run.

“He had an outstanding game tonight,” Roy said of Piccirillo. “He stepped up and threw some great balls… He kept us in the game.”

Zoppi nailed the PAT and Shelton was back in it.

With nothing to lose, the Gaels attempted an onside kick — which West Haven recovered at the Shelton 47.

Taking advantage of the short field, Phillips fired a 41-yard option pass to Zatrell Lyons. Phillips then punched in a 6-yard run, with Gary running in the conversion, to make it 21-7.

Pingree then caught a 25-yard touchdown pass on a fade from Piccirillo to make it 21-14 with 48 seconds left in the half, as Zoppi added the extra point.

This time the Gaels recovered the squib kick, taking over at the West Haven 20.

A 1-yard dive by Piccirillo made it 21-20, but Gary blocked Zoppi’s PAT to give the Blue Devils a 21-20 halftime edge.

West Haven looked to grind down the Gaels with its opening drive of the season half. Running the ball seven times in a row for 65 yards, the Westies grabbed a 28-20 advantage when Little scored from seven yards out.

“Their backs are tough to stop,” Roy said.

Shelton answered with a long drive of its own.

The Gaels marched 80 yards in 12 plays, fueled by a successful fake-punt run by Hoff, to pull within two points with 5:10 left in the third frame.

Corcoran caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from Piccirillo to make it 28-26, but the conversion pass fell incomplete.

The Gaels kept pushing, but West Haven stayed one step ahead to keep its win streak intact heading into its Thanksgiving Day showdown at Fairfield Prep (8-2).

On the flip side, Shelton will prepare for a Derby squad that has dropped five out of six following a 4-0 start.

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