RHS football team looks to rebound against Harding

Football is a sport in which an unsettling and unsuspected defeat’s gloom is usually overcome with a chance at redemption seven days later.

However, the after-game pain and team soul searching following Ridgefield’s 22-14 loss to McMahon on Oct. 26 was tempered not by the routine of the next game but by the devastation and power blackout caused by Hurricane Sandy.

With school closed for seven days, and a chunk of practices canceled, gridiron strategy and what-if scenarios took a back seat to tree downings and the loss of basic domestic necessities for many of the players and coaches.

Nevertheless, football marches forward tomorrow night as Ridgefield return to Tiger Hollow for its first home game since an Oct. 5 pounding of Wilton when the Tigers play host to winless Harding.

Head coach Kevin Callahan spoke to The Press about his squad’s return to the practice field, the crushing defeat at McMahon, and what to expect for the now tightly compressed schedule (three games in the next 12 days) as the season winds to a close.

“The McMahon game was incredibly disappointing. No matter how many times we look at the game film, both the coaches and the players see that McMahon had a game plan to beat us that was executed very well,” said Callahan. “We did not win the battle in the trenches for the first time all season since the loss to Greenwich on opening night. Our playmakers didn’t get the sufficient touches they needed to make a dominating impression on our opponent and, most importantly, our recurring theme all season, which was to impose our will on our opponent, well it just wasn’t there that night in Norwalk.

“I can’t pinpoint a reason that we came out so flat in the opening half,” said Callahan,  whose team was held scoreless in the first two quarters for the first time in 35 games, dating back to September 2009. “It was a collective failure to get our playmakers involved, as well as making in-game adjustments to stop McMahon’s one-two running attack that pretty much ran a perfect game. They smartly ate the clock up by snapping the ball with zero ticks on the clock on virtually every play, and we basically played a very sloppy game at the worst possible time.”

Asked if he had any regrets about not making a change at quarterback, Callahan never hesitated with an answer.

“Connor (Rowe) is a senior, he’s battle tested, and our coaching staff thought he gave us the best chance to pull out the comeback win,” said Callahan. “Ryan Dunn performed admirably when Connor was suspended for those two games, but at halftime our offensive coaches and myself decided to stick with Connor.

“The team battled back, but whether we lost by eight or 80, a loss is a loss and it hurt terribly. Normally, we get right back on the practice field, but here we’re in extraordinary circumstances where the weather kept us off the turf for a week. And that extra week was a mixture of regret about the McMahon result coupled with the daily news of recovery in Fairfield County.”

Practice resumed Saturday morning at 8 a.m., and the Harding game, which was moved several times, is now set for Friday night at Tiger Hollow at 7.

“Our game with Harding keeps getting moved around, but now I assume we’re ready to play, according to the FCIAC, on Friday night,” said Callahan. “Harding is coming in looking for their first win and we have to take them very seriously. As I told our players at the first practice after the hurricane, we have a chance to win out and finish 8-2 and with a little luck might creep back into the state playoff picture.

“I stressed that we control our fate and that an 8-2 season is something for the seniors to be proud of and for the underclassmen on the roster to use as a stepping stone for next season,” continued Callahan. “A 7-3 season would be very, very disappointing to me, but we have to take it now just one game at a time. I ask the kids to remember how we started in the August heat three months ago and that they must look on the season, especially with three games remaining, as a challenge to finish strong.”

Andrew Chuma, the junior strong safety and wide receiver, echoed his coach’s thoughts a few hours after the team’s return to the practice field.

“Coach told us to not hang our heads,” he said. “We all realize that pride is an often indefinable trait of a team’s character and we certainly want to finish out with three victories.”

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