Football: Rams win Class LL classic from Shelton Gaels

Shelton High coach Jeff Roy and New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli agreed it was one heckuva game, but only one team got to continue their season after the visiting Rams defeated the Gaels 42-34, in a Class LL quarterfinal at Finn Stadium on Tuesday night.

New Canaan (9-2), the No. 8 seed, will play No. 5 Fairfield Prep (10-1) in Sunday’s semifinal. The Jesuits knocked off No. 4 Southington, 28-21. Top-seeded Shelton finished 10-1.

“It was back and forth between two great programs,” Roy said. “It was well played on both sides of the ball. I can’t say enough about our guys. We got down a couple scores, but kept fighting and had a chance to win it.”

Marinelli said, “Shelton is a hell of a football team. They are well coached and you can see why they were unbeaten. Their kids are classy and this is a first-class operation. This was the kind of game you would expect in the playoffs.”

The first meeting between the two schools had a little of everything.

Defense dominated in a first half that ended tied at 7-all.

New Canaan then scored 14 points in the first 50 seconds of the third quarter.

Shelton didn’t fold its tent — the Gaels simply scored 14 points in a stretch that covered 2:15.

Deadlocked at 21 entering the final quarter, the Rams regained the lead on Drew Pyne’s 4-yard TD pass to Quintin O’Connell with 10:38 remaining.

When NC’s J.R. Moore broke off a 42-yard scoring run with 3:32 left the outcome seemed secure.

Gael quarterback Jake Roberts scrambled for 32 yards and completed two passes to David Yakowicz, the second for a 12-yard TD, to draw within 35-28 on Nick Andrade’s fourth conversion kick.

Roberts ran for two touchdowns and threw for three scores.

The Rams recovered the onside kick and Pyne ran 38 yards for a back-breaking score with 1:12 on the clock.

Roberts connected on four passes after a fine kickoff return by Yakowicz. Chris Thompson latched onto a 9-yard TD pass to make it 42-34 with 31 ticks remaining.

Andrade recovered his onside kick, but it was ruled he had touched the ball before it went the necessary 10 yards and NC took a knee.

So how did a 7-7 game turn into an offensive extravaganza?

“Shelton was looking to confuse us with different defensive coverages,” Marinelli said. “And we were trying to confuse them. It was like a chess game.”

The Gaels drove 99 yards in 12 plays to take the lead on Roberts’ 4-yard run at the 6:57 mark of the second quarter.

Shelton’s defense forced three punts to start the game, but New Canaan’s fourth series resulted in a 64-yard drive that culminated when Pyne found O’Connell open for a 19-yard touchdown with 28 seconds left in the half.

Nick Radman made the first of his seven PATS and the teams went into the break tied.

The record-breaking Pyne to O’Connell combination struck again, this time from 78 yards out, on the third play of the second half.

In Shelton’s second play after the kickoff, the Rams’ Drew Guida came up with a pass that bounced off two players and took it into the end zone for a 13-yard TD. New Canaan led 21-7.

After an exchange of punts, Yakowicz caught a 25-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-14 with 3:19 left in the third period.

Pyne kept the ball three plays later, Zack McEwen knocked the ball loose, and Shelton’s Tyler Janik caught it on the Rams’ 16.

Roberts scored on a 3-yard run and with 1:06 remaining in the quarter it was 21-all.

“I can’t say enough about my seniors,” Roy said. “It was 21-7 on the third, and they all kept fighting. This team would not quit.