Ridgefield High wide receiver Collin Lowe wrestled the football away from Shelton defensive back Paul Ferrigno for a 20-yard touchdown pass and the game’s winning score with 1:14 left, as the No. 7 Tigers stunned No. 6 Gaels, 44-41 in a Class LL semifinal game in front of 2,000 at Finn Stadium Monday night.
Ridgefield (10-2) moves on to play fellow FCIAC foe Darien in the Class LL state championship game Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at West Haven High.
Top-seeded Darien (12-0) is the defending Class LL champion, defeating Shelton 39-7 in last year’s title game.
Shelton finishes its season 9-3 and is left to think about what could have been in a game that saw the Gaels lose an 18-point first-half lead, and a 10-point lead with 4:55 left in the game.
Shelton couldn’t come up with the one play it needed to seal their third straight trip to a state final.
Gael head coach Jeff Roy thought his defense had done just that on Ridgefield quarterback Drew Fowler’s jump ball pass to the front left pylon, trailing 41-37.
“I thought we had the game won there,” said Roy. “I thought [Ferrigno] intercepted the football.”
Ferrigno appeared to have as much a shot at the ball as Lowe, but after the players fell to the ground still fighting for the ball, and a moment of hesitation from the official, it was ruled a Ridgefield touchdown.
The Gaels took over at their 20-yard line needing a field goal to tie or a touchdown to win it. But two long incompletions preceded an interception that sealed the Ridgefield victory.
“It was a great game,” said Roy. “We just made too many mistakes tonight.”
Trailing 31-27 late in the third quarter, Shelton quarterback David Wells put the team on his back. The senior led a 10-play, 80-yard drive to help Shelton regain the lead 34-31 with 10:12 left in the fourth quarter. Wells kept it himself for the score, racing around left end for a 28-yard touchdown.
Wells gave the Gaels what appeared to be a key insurance touchdown on a 20-yard keeper with 4:55 left for a 41-31 lead. The touchdown run was set up by a 45-yard Wells-to-Joe Zoppi pass.
The Shelton defense needed just one stop on Ridgefield’s final two drives, but couldn’t get it.
Two pass interference penalties helped Ridgefield move 70 yards in seven plays, using up just 1:17 off the clock. Fowler found Shane Palmer in the back corner of the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown pass. Ridgefield failed to convert the PAT and trailed 41-37 with 3:38 remaining.
A first down by the Shelton offense may have been enough to ice a victory with Ridgefield out of timeouts, but Wells was stopped for gains of one yard and three yards before having a third-down pass batted down at the line of scrimmage.
Starting from their own 45-yard line with 2:06 left, the Tigers quickly picked up 24 yards on a pass play to the Shelton 31.
Two incompletions and a false start penalty had Ridgefield facing a 3rd-and-15, but the Tigers converted on a 16-yard Fowler-to-Palmer pass play, setting up the game-winning play.
Ridgefield converted 7-of-9 third down plays in the second half, leading to three touchdowns.
The way the game started, it looked like Shelton might cruise into Saturday’s state championship game.
The Gaels opened up a 21-3 lead just 17 seconds into the second quarter.
Wells started the scoring with a 48-yard keeper before Ronnie Rich added a 1-yard touchdown run behind Matthew Liscio, Dan Barone, Robert Valeri, Christopher Goodman and David Brown.
After a Ridgefield field goal, Wells scored from long distance again, this time going 41 yards.
But Shelton’s early momentum proved to be fleeting. On Ridgefield’s ensuing drive, the Gaels had the Tigers in a 3rd-and-12 from their 32-yard line with a chance to force Ridgefield to punt.
But Fowler threw deep to Palmer who made the catch and ran the rest of the way for a 68-yard touchdown. The Ridgefield offense, held to just 44 yards on 14 plays to that point, was alive and kicking.
Two Shelton miscues led to two more Ridgefield touchdowns.
A high snap forced Shelton punter Joe Zoppi to run on a 4th-and-5 from deep in its own territory, but Zoppi was stopped short. Ridgefield capitalized three plays later on a two-yard touchdown pass.
A Shelton fumble on its next play from scrimmage was recovered by Ridgefield at the Gael 15-yard line. The Tigers needed just one play this time, as Fowler found Chris Longo for the score.
The Gaels answered Ridgefield’s 21 straight points late in the second quarter on a 23-yard Wells-to-Anthony Schiavo touchdown pass for a 27-24 halftime lead.
Wells led the Gaels offensively, rushing 18 times for 194 yards and four touchdowns. He also completed 8-of-21 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown.
But Ridgefield’s Fowler was equal to the task, completing 18-of-28 passes for 302 yards and a career-best six touchdowns.