The Shelton High football team controlled the line of scrimmage, had the edge in takeaways, and played stout defense when coach Jeff Roy’s Gaels defeated Southern Connecticut Conference rival Notre Dame of West Haven, 17-7, in a drenching rain at Veteran’s Stadium in West Haven on Friday night.
Shelton improved to 4-0 on the season and will visit a 3-1 West Haven High team at Ken Strong Stadium next Friday night. Notre Dame is 2-2.
“With the weather conditions we knew had to run the ball and Peter Hoff did a good job hitting the hole hard,” Roy said of the Gaels’ mainstay at running back. “Our offensive line did a great job, and even though they knew he was running the ball, Peter put his shoulder down and got the tough yards.”
Hoff gutted out 79 yards on 23 carries, including a 1-yard run to give Shelton the lead on the second play of the second quarter. Joe Zoppi’s conversion kick made it 7-0.
Notre Dame, with starting quarterback Christian Lupoli sidelined with a concussion, turned to sophomore Chris Elias. The Green Knights took turns running Prince Brooks and Josh Witkowski, but had trouble denting Shelton’s d-line, which was led by Ed Radzion, Tyler Stevens, Dan Barone and Chris Goodman.
Shelton drove to the Notre Dame 18 before giving the ball up on downs to start the game.
After an exchange of punts, Elias looked to connect with star receiver Nico Ragaini over the middle, but Chris Kanios, returning to the lineup from an injury, was right there to tip the pass. Kevin Robinson caught the deflection and returned the interception to midfield.
Shelton drove the distance in nine plays to go in front, behind the o-line of Matt Zelanin, Peter Peng, Matt Liscio, Steve Parravano and Robert Valeri, with Ron Hubbard and Kyle Bulkley blocking on the edge. Hoff bucked over from the one on third-and goal.
Shelton got the best out of a pair of empty possessions when Robinson’s punt was fumbled by Ragaini and Justin Greene recovered the ball on the Green Knights’ 12-yard line.
In position to take a two-touchdown lead, Shelton saw the opportunity go by the board when Matt Jambor recovered a fumble on a broken play at the 12-yard line.
Keith Prior showed his skills on second-and-10 from the 25, when the senior dropped into his zone, read the quarterback, and stepped in front to intercept a pass at the Notre Dame 45.
Set back by a holding penalty, Shelton quarterback Zach Tuskowski was hit on a pass attempt and Notre Dame recovered the ball at the Shelton 43.
Notre Dame moved into Shelton territory, before Prior stuffed Brooks, Ron Rich stopped Elias, and Kanios celebrated his return with a 62-yard pick-six off an interception with 35 seconds remaining in the first half.
Zoppi’s PAT gave the Gaels a 14-0 lead.
“We knew the defense had to step up,” said Greene, a linebacker. “It was great having Chris Kanios and Alex Kirk back. They give us so much more for team’s to worry about.”
Notre Dame put Ragaini in at quarterback to start the second half and he carried four times to bring the ball to the Shelton 45, but Prior and Hubbard had the tackles to force a punt.
Shelton then put together a 16-play, 87-yard drive that took 8:20 off the clock.
Tuskowski connected with Kanios on a key third down play that was good for 23 yards and a first down at the midfield. Kanios came off the field limping, but Tuskowski found Bulkley for a big 10-yard pickup to the 38.
Roy went with a tight formation here and used his wingbacks — Sam Kirk and Robinson — to ground out a pair of first downs. When the drive stalled, Zoppi booted a 28-yard field goal to take the Shelton lead to 17-0 with 18 seconds left in the third quarter.
Alex Kirk, Hoff, Hubbard and Greene, who perfectly read a screen pass, got the ball right back for the offense.
Shelton played a game of score and clock on this series, before giving possession to the Knights on their 39-yard line with just over 8 minutes left.
Elias found Jon Aceto wide open over the middle for a 39-yard score with 6:36 remaining and Christian Silvernale hit the PAT.
On its next possession, Notre Dame drove to the Shelton 34 before Rich’s blindside sack of Elias forced a turnover on downs with 3:14 . The Gaels ran out the clock.
“Having Alex and Chris back on the field was a big lift, physically and emotionally,” Roy said. “Nothing against the guys who stepped in for them, but they are All-State caliber players and we’re glad they are back.”