The Shelton High football team wanted to be playing football in the Class LL playoffs this week, but instead had to settle for the consolation prize.
The consolation prize came in the form of longtime rival Derby on Thanksgiving Day. The Gaels whitewashed the Red Raiders 56-20 before 2,000 on a brisk day at Lou DeFilippo Field in the 103rd meeting between the two Valley schools.
Shelton has not lost to Derby since 2002, has won 16 out of the last 17, and now leads the overall series 53-43-7.
The victory ended a two-game losing streak and allowed the 7-4 Gaels to end the season on a high note.
“I’m going to enjoy the win,” said Shelton’s Jeff Roy, who has never lost to the Red Raiders (5-6) as Shelton’s head coach.
The game was essentially over at halftime. After Derby pulled to within 28-12 early in the second quarter, the Gaels answered with two more first half touchdowns, including a 50-yard kickoff return for a score by up-man Troy Vasilescu, for a 42-12 halftime lead.
Shelton added a 55-yard Mark Piccirillo-to-Kyle Drost touchdown pass on its first possession of the second half, and Michael Pingree tacked on a 30-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter to put an exclamation point on the victory.
Piccirillo earned his second straight game Most Valuable Player award, after throwing for 148 yards and three scores, and adding 133 yards rushing and three more touchdowns.
“Our line did a great job pushing them around,” said Piccirillo of an offensive line including Christopher Pawloski, Craig Melvin, Trevor Searles, Peter Peng and Jacob Grosso, and tight ends Drost and Christian Federici.
“The offensive line did really well,” added Roy. “They protected Mark, and we ran the ball.”
An undersized Derby allowing 35.8 points per game proved no match for the Gaels from the outset. Shelton scored touchdowns on its first four possessions of the game.
The Gaels took the game’s opening kickoff and needed just three plays and 45 seconds to take the lead for good. Piccirillo scored on a five-yard keeper and completed the two-point conversion pass to Drost for an 8-0 Shelton lead.
Piccirillo capped off Shelton’s second possession with a 26-yard touchdown run, and added the conversion run to make it 16-0 with 6:48 left in the first quarter.
Pingree got into the act on Shelton’s third possession. He caught consecutive passes of 24 and 40 yards from Piccirillo, the second of which was good for the Gaels’ third touchdown of the day and a 22-0 advantage.
Shelton’s fourth touchdown was a one-yard run by senior co-captain Jason Thompson.
“We got him a carry,” said Roy of Thompson, who broke his collarbone late in the Xavier game but was cleared medically for limited action. Thompson made the most of his only carry of his final high school game with his 17th career touchdown.
After falling behind 22-0, Derby made things interesting, pulling within 28-12 on a 33-yard Michael Kreiger-to-Jordan LaRue touchdown pass.
But that would be as close as the Red Raiders would get. Shelton scored 28 straight points before Derby ended the scoring on a 70-yard Tyrae Small touchdown run with 5:19 left in the game.
“They beat us up pretty good,” said Derby coach George French of the Gaels. “They lost four games in the fourth quarter to good teams.”
While Piccirillo won the game MVP award, Pingree gave his teammate a run for the honor.
Playing in his last game as a Gael, Pingree capped off a great season with 87 yards receiving on four carries and a touchdown, along with 124 yards rushing on nine carries and another score. He also had an interception on defense.
“He had an unbelievable senior year for us, offensively, defensively and special teams,” said Roy of Pingree. “His all-purpose yards were well over 2,000.”
Defensively, sophomore Chris Kirk led the way with a career-high 10 solo tackles. Vasilescu and seniors Michael Ortoli and Marquet Humphrey each added six tackles. Federici recorded two sacks, and Humphrey one, while Pingree came up with the game’s only turnover.
Mark Piccirillo is only the second player to win the game MVP award twice, joining former Gael Geoff Schultz (2006 and 2007), who was on the sideline for Thursday’s game.
Piccirillo, a junior, will have a chance to become the first three-time winner next year.
Roy was a former MVP, winning the award in Shelton’s 21-7 victory in 1984
Shelton’s 56 points ties the most points scored by one team in the series, matching the 56 the Gaels posted in their 56-12 victory in 2008.
The combined 76 points scored by both teams is a series record, erasing the previous high of 69 points scored in Shelton’s 44-25 win over Derby in 2005.
Shelton’s 56-20 victory over Derby almost matched its 57-20 victory over Trumbull (8-3) to open the season.
Shelton finished 14th out of 36 schools in the Class LL point standings. The top eight teams qualified for the LL playoffs.
Thursday’s victory was Shelton’s 70th in Roy’s 10 years at the helm. His record is now 70-35.