Gatto, Cali set records as Ridgefield routs Warde, 55-8

As temperatures dropped well below freezing on Friday night, Tiger Hollow felt more like the Star Wars' ice planet Hoth. But providing some warmth was the Ridgefield High football team's offense, which stayed decidedly hot.

With quarterback Greg Gatto throwing a school-record seven touchdowns, host Ridgefield celebrated its Senior Night by routing Fairfield Warde, 55-8.

The victory raised Ridgefield's record to 6-3 going into the regular-season finale against Danbury (Nov. 22). The Tigers also moved up from 15th to 12th in the Class LL point rankings — the top-eight teams at the end of the regular season advance to the state playoffs.

Gatto's seven TD passes broke the program record of six that he shared with Drew Fowler, who graduated in June. Gatto also set a new record for single-season passing yards, as he now has over 2,371 yards this year, breaking the mark set by Ryan Dunn in 2013.

“It’s really a credit to my receivers and what we’ve been able to do as a group this year,” said Gatto.

Also setting a school record was senior outside linebacker Alex Cali, who recorded two sacks to increase his season total to nine and eclipse the previous mark of eight, set by Pat Weston in 2013. “It’s a blessing,” said Cali. “It’s nice to see all of the hard work from the offseason pay off.”

Ridgefield’s defense was dominant all evening, allowing the lone Warde touchdown (and two-point conversion) on the final play of the game. Warde (4-5 overall) didn’t take a single snap in the Ridgefield red zone and barely moved the ball onto the Tigers' side of the field.

The tone was set early. On Warde’s opening possession, Ridgefield senior linebacker Noah Isaacson hit quarterback Matt Cerminaro to force a fumble that Cali recovered. But Ridgefield was unable to convert the turnover into points as Gatto's pass to Jackson Mitchell on fourth and three fell short.

Fairfield Warde took over on its own 25-yard line, but soon had to punt from its 37. The kick had a net gain of only eight yards as Ridgefield was able to return the ball to the Warde 45-yard line.

Ridgefield began the series with a screen pass to senior wide receiver Luke Gaydos, who tripped up a defender and gained 12 yards for a first down. Three plays later, Gatto ran for a first down on a fourth and inches to put the Tigers at the Warde 23-yard line.

Two runs by Ben Seward took Ridgefield to the seven-yard line, from where Gatto connected with Matt Lombardo on a play-action touchdown pass up the middle A missed extra point left the Tigers ahead, 6-0, with 2:32 left in the opening quarter.

“The offense was successful in the rushing game early in the drive,” said Lombardo. “The coaches did a great job of setting me up for a play-action route.”

It didn't take long for Ridgefield to get the ball back. On a third-and-17 play from deep inside Warde territory, Cerminaro threw a pass up the middle that Lombardo tipped and safety Thomas Formus caught for an interception. Formus was able to return the ball to the Warde 30-yard line with 52.4 seconds left in the half. It was the first of two picks for Formus.

“All week we went over their favorite route combinations and I took some gambles and they paid off when I jumped the two balls,” said Formus.

On the first play from scrimmage, Gatto fired a pass to Mitchell on a deep slant for a 30-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion failed, giving the Tigers a 12-0 lead with 46.5 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

Already controlling the game on offense and defense, Ridgefield got a contribution from its special teams. On fourth and 10 from its own 35, Warde attempted a punt that was blocked by Cali and returned to the 20-yard line.

A holding call wiped out Mitchell's highlight-reel touchdown catch, and another penalty and an unsportsmanlike conduct call backed Ridgefield from Warde’s 17 into the Tigers' own side of the field. On third and 40-plus yards, Gatto hit receiver Evan Wein, who ran to the 30-yard line. A late hit on Gatto then moved Ridgefield to the Warde 15, and on fourth and five Gatto's hard count drew Warde offsides to get the first down.

Gatto then gained nine yards on a quarterback draw and followed with a one-yard touchdown run. Gatto's two-point conversion pass to Lombardo put the Tigers ahead, 20-0, with nine minutes remaining in the half.

Following another Warde punt, Gatto connected with Mitchell on three passes — the last of which was a 24-yard touchdown to give Ridgefield a 27-0 lead with 5:35 left in the second quarter.

Ridgefield’s stout defense ended the half with a few more sacks. “Early on, we were able to pressure the line,” said senior defensive end Jason Donovan. “From there, our guys kept playing at a high level and finished well.”

The Tigers added more points on their second possession of the second half. Gatto hit Mitchell for a 15-yard gain and, two plays later, found Wein for a five-yard touchdown pass. Harry Woodger's extra point extended Ridgefield's lead to 34-0 with 4:32 remaining in the third quarter.

Ridgefield’s defense forced another three-and-out, with the Tigers taking over at their own 45-yard line. A screen pass to running back Aidan Schwartz set up a six-yard touchdown pass from Gatto to senior wide receiver Jimmy Kulik for a 41-0 lead that started the game operating with a running clock.

Two plays after a turnover on downs by Warde, Gatto found Kulik for another touchdown, this time a 51-yard bomb down the middle of the field. “The first half was brutally cold and it took me a while to get warm, but I came out hot and and ready to make my last Friday night game on Tiger Hollow a memorable one,” said Kulik.

Trailing 48-0, Warde’s next possession ended with Formus’ second interception of the game. Gatto then hit a wide-open Mitchell up the middle for a 73-yard touchdown pass The extra point gave Ridgefield a 55-0 lead with 2:54 left.

After calling a timeout, Warde avoided the shutout by scoring on a 70-plus yard run and a two-point conversion to make the final score 55-8.

“We really were able to stop the run tonight,” said Ridgefield senior linebacker Noah Isaacson. “Our front six is full of playmakers and we know we have one of the best run defenses in the state, so it forced them to air the ball out. And when they did that, we got after the QB very successfully.”

“We knew it was going to be an emotional game since it’s Senior Night, but we just had to come out and execute, which is what we did,” said Gatto. "They’re a solid team but we refused to be stopped ... proud of the guys and happy we could finish out our last Friday night at the Hollow like this.”