The win gave head coach Kevin Callahan his 100th career victory at the helm of the Tigers.
Sam Gravitte led the way with four touchdowns for Ridgefield. Connor Rowe added two more scores and the defense pitched a shutout after the winless Presidents scored on the fourth play of the game.
The victory moved Ridgefield’s record to 6-2 and bumped them up a spot to 11th in the Class LL state playoff point rankings entering tonight’s game (6 p.m.) against visiting Bridgeport Central.
After Harding’s DJ Smith scored on a 55-yard run to open the scoring, Ridgefield responded with seven unanswered touchdowns. Gravitte scored his first touchdown on a short run and Rowe ran in the two-point conversion to tie the score at 8-8.
Another short touchdown run by Gravitte, after Rowe and Ryan Dunn completed passes, led to a 15-8 lead. Rowe then hit Timo Muro for a 39-yard gain, setting up Rowe’s own 33-yard scamper into the end zone to make it 22-8 with five minutes remaining in the second quarter.
Ridgefield safety Mickey Hicks intercepted a Harding pass and returned it 30 yards, down to the Harding 12. Gravitte notched his third rushing touchdown a few plays later, taking the Tigers into the locker room with a 28-8 advantage at halftime.
Dunn started the third quarter at quarterback, and on the first play from scrimmage he rolled out and hit Gravitte on a bubble screen pass. Gravitte roared down the sideline for a 72-yard score and his 17th touchdown of the season.
Harding then fumbled three times in succession (Ridgefield recovered five fumbles on the evening), resulting in a Will Bonaparte five-yard touchdown run (his ninth of the year), followed by a Rowe one-yard sneak into the end zone.
It took the Tigers just slightly more than three minutes to score the trio of touchdowns, making it 48-8 with 8:50 remaining in the third quarter.
At this point, Callahan began liberal substitution of his entire squad, and, after Harding fumbled again, Jack Boscia scored his first varsity touchdown on a three-yard run with five minutes remaining in the third quarter. Ridgefield yielded a meaningless safety for the final two points of the contest.
Notes: Gravitte had 67 yards on the ground and 86 yards via two receptions. Rowe was an efficient four-of-six for 69 yards and ran for 39 yards. Dunn completed five-of-nine passes for 124 yards. Oliver Jones, James Turner and Bryan Swan all received carries.
Senior wideout Brett Baker, after being sidelined six games due to a wrist injury, caught his first pass of the season for 12 yards.
On defense, Micky Carbone had six solo tackles. Hicks chipped in with five tackles and senior Tanner Gibson added four. Aidan Mauro had his sixth interception of the year, and senior Connor Tango snagged his first. Fumble recoveries were made by Carbone, sophomore James Hesemeyer, senior captain Andrew Barton, Gibson, and junior Andrew Franco.
Speaking from his home on Monday evening, Callahan admitted he didn’t even know at the time that his 100th career victory at Ridgefield was another highlight of the Harding game.
“Pamby (John Pambianchi) alerted me to the fact,” said Callahan. “It was nice, but more importantly we righted ourselves after the hurricane and bounced back after the tough loss to McMahon. (Mickey) Hicks played an excellent game, as did Sam (Gravitte). An unsung hero is our center Wyatt Hemley. He’s played steady all season, and our special teams were outstanding, especially (Micky) Carbone.
“Central is coming off a last-second loss to Trumbull,” added Callahan. “They scored over 40 points and can be dangerous. Last year’s victory (31-26) over them was a wild game and they’ve been hit by injuries and graduation losses. It’s Senior Night and I expect our kids to be as sharp as they’ve been all season.”
Co-captain Chris Mirra, a three-year starter on defense, reflected on the final home game of his high school career: “It is hard to put it into to words, but I guess I would say that the feeling is surreal. I cannot believe that this is going to be my last game at the Hollow; it feels like just the other day I was playing my first varsity game on that field,” said Mirra. “There is a certain feeling that I get when I walk onto that field, under the lights, to play in front of the town that I cannot describe; it’s a feeling that you have to experience.
“I am truly going to miss the Hollow,” continued Mirra. “Some of my greatest memories have come on that field, not only during games, but during practice as well. I will never forget the memories or the coaches and teammates that I have had over my three years on this team. It truly is a special bond and I do love this team. However, we have a job to do and we cannot get distracted by the fact that it is Senior Night as we need to take care of Central.”