The Shelton High football team earned a hard-fought 35-28 victory over Newtown High in the Class LL state semifinals on Monday night at Finn Stadium.
Leading by a seven points after Ethan Carpenter caught a 5-yard touchdown for the fourth-seeded Nighthawks with 4:26 left to play, the Gaels regained possession at their own 16-yard line.
Once again, the top-seeded Gaels overwhelmed Newtown when they needed to, converting three critical third downs that allowed them to run out the clock and secure the victory.
“Newtown is an excellent football team and very well-coached,” Shelton High head coach Jeff Roy said. “We knew it was going to be tough. Our kids just kept coming… They kept fighting and we were able to close it out there in the end.”
Quarterback Zach Tuskowski completed third-down passes to Anthony Schiavo and Alex Kirk to keep the drive alive, before Ron Hubbard took a direct snap on third-and-3 from the Newtown 49 for a 5-yard gain that salted away the rest of the clock.
“He had a heck of a game on both sides of the ball,” Roy said of Hubbard. “He’s our leader. He’s a heck of a football player.”
Shelton, which lost in last year’s Class LL Small Division state final, will face second-seeded Darien High (11-0) in the championship game at Willowbrook Park in New Britain on Saturday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. The Blue Wave decimated third-seeded Southington High, 49-7, in the other semifinal on Monday night.
Shelton never trailed against Newtown, taking the game’s opening kickoff and marching 64 yards in seven plays for a score.
Hubbard finished off the drive with a 7-yard Wildcat pass to Jon Sobotka, with Joe Zoppi converting the first of five PATs to stake the Gaels to a 7-0 edge at the 9:20 mark of the first half.
Newtown responded by advancing to the Shelton 1 in nine plays, but fullback Ben Mason fumbled the ball attempting to leap over the pile. David Wells recovered the loose ball in the endzone for a touchback, giving it back to the Gaels at their own 20.
Shelton failed to capitalize, fumbling it away two plays later to set up Newtown’s first score.
Michael Doyle then pulled the Nighthawks level at 7, surging around the left side for a 12-yard TD that tied the game following Ryan Kost’s extra point.
Kevin Robinson put Shelton back ahead with 1:24 left in the opening frame on the next Gael possession, as the senior hauled in a 34-yard scoring strike from Tuskowski.
“We just showed that we have depth and that anybody on the field can get it done,” Robinson said. “We just showed it’s a team sport, we all play together and get it done.”
The teams then traded turnovers on the next four possessions, with Newtown fumbling twice and the Gaels losing a fumble and throwing an interception.
After Jared Pearson picked off Tuskowski with 8:15 left in the second quarter, Justin Dunn fired a 38-yard touchdown pass to Mason to pull Newtown level.
Once again, Shelton responded.
Tuskowski connected with Schiavo for a 24-yard touchdown with 2:27 left in the first half.
A botched snap on a punt by Newtown on its first drive of the second half set up the next Shelton score.
Hubbard punched in a 1-yard score at the 8:34 mark, as the Gaels took advantage of the short field.
Dunn’s 5-yard TD pass to Mason in the left flat made it a 28-21 game with 10:17 left to play, before Hubbard barreled in from 10 yards out to re-establish Shelton’s two-score margin.
Carpenter’s 5-yard touchdown reception got Newtown with striking distance, but Shelton’s offense kept the chains moving to grind down the clock and give the Gaels their second consecutive trip to the state finals.