Defense does job as Ridgefield tops Wilton, 17-3

In 1993, Bill Clinton started his first term as President, gas cost $1.09 per gallon, the top grossing movie was Jurassic Park, and the number one song was Whitney Houston's I Will Always Love You. Since then, there have been three more presidents, the birth of Amazon, Google, and Facebook, the greatest economic downturn since the 1920s, and a growth of about 2 billion people in the global population.

Although much has changed since 1993, one thing has stayed the same: The Ridgefield High football team has not lost to arch-rival Wilton.

In Saturday’s Homecoming contest, Ridgefield extended its 24-year unbeaten streak by beating the Warriors, 17-3. The Tigers are now 19-0-1 in their last 20 games against Wilton.

Coming off a brutal 38-35 loss to St. Joseph, Ridgefield raised its record to 4-2 with the victory and kept its state playoff hopes alive. Wilton, meanwhile, dropped to 3-3.

Ridgefield's defense shut down Wilton’s anachronistic, run-heavy Wing-T offense, holding the Warriors to a field goal in the second half.  “The challenge against Wilton is that they’re a very good team and they’re not a typical offense," said Ridgefield head coach Kevin Callahan. "In order to prepare for that, you have to simulate it and feel like you’re confident in what you’re doing defensively to stop it.”

Largely due to the tenacity of the Tigers' front six, Wilton struggled to pick up first downs and put together drives. “I think in general we have very strong, aggressive linebackers and a very solid defensive line," said defensive coordinator Joe Arcieri. "Everyone plays as a unit and that’s what playing defense is all about.”

With linemen Jason Donovan, John Schneider and Ryan McCann tying up Wilton blockers, linebackers Alex Cali, Noah Isaacson and Connor Goff blew up numerous Wilton plays. “It really was just a great overall effort by our defense," said Isaacson. "Our coaches gave us a great gameplan for [the Wilton] offense, and we had a great week of practice to prepare for it.

"Our front six today played phenomenal, and it all started with (middle linebacker) Connor Goff and (nose tackle) John Schneider clogging things up in the middle," added Isaacson. "They may not be on the stat sheet so much, but they really were the reason [Alex] Cali and I were able to have such success."

Ridgefield went ahead on its second possession of the first quarter. From the 50-yard line, quarterback Greg Gatto connected with wide receiver Luke Gaydos for a six-yard gain. A sack pushed Ridgefield into a third and 10 before Gatto found Jackson Mitchell for a 15-yard gain up the middle.

After a short run and an offsides on Wilton, Gatto hit Mitchell for an 18-yard gain to the Warriors' 10-yard line. On first and goal, running back Ben Seward carried the ball to the one-yard line and a Wilton penalty moved the Tigers to the one-inch line and gave them a new set of downs.

Seward was stuffed behind the line of scrimmage, setting up second and goal from the four-yard line. Gatto then rolled out and fired a pass to Gaydos in the top left corner of the end zone.

"It felt great to score the first touchdown today," said Gaydos. "In a rivalry game like this, it's all about momentum and it was good that we got on the scoreboard first."

Harry Woodger's extra point gave Ridgefield a 7-0 lead with 2:06 left in the first quarter.

On the ensuing possession, Wilton got its initial first down before a delay-of-game penalty and tight coverage from the Ridgefield secondary forced a punt.

The two teams then traded short possessions until Wilton put together its best drive of the day. Starting on their own 33, the Warriors ran the option effectively and opened holes in Ridgefield’s aggressive defense. The ground attack, led by quarterback Brian Calabrese and running back Harvey Alexander, moved the ball to Ridgefield’s 31-yard line.

But with 2:30 remaining in the half, Calabrese kept the ball on the option and ran to the left side, where he was swarmed by Ridgefield defenders and lost the ball. Mitchell recovered for the Tigers on their own 26-yard line.

With 2:19 left in the half, Gatto and the Ridgefield offense put together their most impressive drive of the day. A quick pass to Mitchell and a Gatto run gave the Tigers a first down. Two plays later, Gatto threw over the middle to Mitchell, who beat one defender and powered through another to move the ball to the Wilton 39 for a 23-yard gain.

On first and 10, Gatto fired a quick pass to Gaydos, who deked a Wilton defender and was run out of bounds at the 20-yard line. A late hit after the play advanced Ridgefield to the 10-yard line with 56 seconds left in the half. On a quarterback draw, Gatto ran to the left side before diving over a defender for the touchdown. After Woodger's extra point, Ridgefield had a 14-0 lead with 51.4 seconds remaining in the half.

Wilton’s previously dormant offense showed some life on its final drive of the half. Following a good kickoff return, the Warriors started on their 40-yard line. Mixing runs and passes, Wilton reached the Ridgefield 10-yard line with 4.2 seconds left. A false start pushed the Warriors back to the 15, and Calabrese tossed a pass to the top right corner of the end zone that was bobbled by a receiver and broken up by Ridgefield defensive back Luke Faillaci as time expired.

The Warriors got their only points early in the third quarter. Kyle Shifrin picked off a Gatto pass and returned the ball to the Ridgefield 36-yard line before several runs moved the Warriors to the 19. The Ridgefield defense then stiffened, and Wilton's Will Sullivan booted a 37-yard field goal to make it 14-3.

Led by Alexander's power rushes, the Warriors did run the ball better in the second half. But the Tigers came up with third-down stops, and Sullivan missed two long field goal attempts.

Following a lengthy drive, Ridgefield added the final points when Woodger drilled a 24-yard field goal with 1:43 left in the game.

Wilton's final possession ended on a long pass that Ridgefield safety Thomas Formus intercepted.

“The ball was thrown up for grabs; the secondary communicated and I came down with it," said Formus, who recently announced that he will play at Bates College. "We stressed the entire week to stay disciplined because we knew they would try to run it down our throats and catch us sleeping. The defense played great all day, especially our linebackers. Everyone did their jobs, and we shut down all their weapons."