Gatto throws six TD's, Ridgefield routs McMahon (updated)

It wasn't supposed to go like this.

With under five minutes left in the second quarter, the heavily favored Ridgefield High football team was clinging to a 10-6 lead over host Brien McMahon on Friday night in Norwalk. And after recovering a fumble, the Senators had moved 44 yards and were now at the Ridgefield 14-yard line.

Three minutes later, however, the Tigers were ahead 24-6 and on their way to a 45-6 rout of McMahon.

The victory was the second straight for the Tigers, who improved their record to 5-2 with three regular-season games remaining, including this Saturday's showdown with unbeaten Greenwich.

Senior quarterback Greg Gatto orchestrated the Ridgefield attack against McMahon (1-6), throwing six touchdown passes for the second time this year.

The first 20 minutes of the game were an unanticipated struggle for Ridgefield. “We showed ourselves that we can be a bad football team sometimes … when you look at the [final] score you forget how bad you played,” said head coach Kevin Callahan.

With McMahon in the Ridgefield red zone and threatening to take the lead late in the second quarter, the Tigers' defense came up with a key stop. On fourth down, Ridgefield sacked the Senators quarterback to take over on its own 18-yard line with 3:58 remaining in the half.

“That one stop sort of got us back on track,” said linebacker Noah Isaacson. “They had scored on the drive before, and then we turned it over, so I think we were definitely flustered. That stop helped us get our composure back and allowed us to be successful the rest of the game.”

From there, Gatto put on a show. The senior quarterback fired a pass up the middle to Jackson Mitchell for a 21-yard gain, and two more completions to Mitchell put the Tigers on McMahon’s 24-yard line.

Following a McMahon timeout, Gatto artfully pump-faked, giving wide receiver Jimmy Kulik an opportunity to create separation from his defender on a slant up the middle. Gatto placed the ball perfectly into the hands of an open Kulik for a touchdown. After the extra point by Harry Woodger, Ridgefield led 17-6 with 2:13 remaining in the half.

On the kickoff, Ridgefield executed a perfect onside kick, with the ball dribbling on the ground before the Tigers recovered on the McMahon 43-yard line. “It was a momentum thing," said Callahan about the decision to try the onside kick. “I think it’s something you have to have in your bag of tricks, but you have to use it at the right time. It’s always a gamble, but I thought at that point we could steal some momentum back.”

Three plays later, Gatto tossed a 19-yard swing pass to running back Ben Seward, who dodged a few defenders to get into the end zone for a touchdown. Just like that, Ridgefield held a commanding 24-6 halftime lead after a shaky start.

Ridgefield received the ball to start the second half and continued to dominate the Senators' secondary. On the first play from scrimmage, Gatto hit Mitchell for a 10-yard gain on a slant. Gatto then threw a pass to senior wide receiver Matt Lombardo, who had an open field ahead of him and sprinted to the McMahon 29-yard line.

After an incomplete pass on first down, Gatto found Lombardo again up the middle at around the 10-yard line. Lombardo caught ball, then ran around the defense and found an opening on the right sideline, powering through to get into the end zone.

“Everyone did their job on that particular snap,” said Lombardo. “It was just my turn to step up and make a play. After a sloppy first half, it was crucial for our offense to execute on our first drive back on the field.”

Ahead 31-6 lead just 35 seconds into the half, the Tigers then forced a three-and-out on McMahon's ensuing possession. On the third play following a McMahon punt, Gatto hit Mitchell on a short pass. Mitchell dodged four McMahon players before flattening another defender at the goal line and barreling into the end zone. Woodger's extra point made it 38-6 with 8:44 remaining in the third quarter.

Ridgefield's final score came after cornerback Luke Gaydos made a diving interception at McMahon’s 28-yard line. Four plays later, Gatto spotted Kulik on a slant route up the middle. Kulik bobbled the pass before pulling it in and scoring a 17-yard touchdown. Another Woodger extra point put Ridgefield in front, 45-6, with 4:25 remaining in the third quarter.

The game then went to a running clock, and Ridgefield began replacing many of its starters with reserves. Neither team scored again, as the Tigers added three more interceptions, one apiece by Kurt Monahan, Connor Riebling, and Mitchell.

Ridgefield will now begin preparing for its biggest contest of the regular season: Saturday afternoon's road game at unbeaten Greenwich (6-0). Currently 11th in the Class LL point rankings, the Tigers must beat Greenwich in order to keep their hopes of qualifying for the state playoffs alive. The top-eight teams advance to the Class LL postseason.

“We're gonna bring the hammer all week in practice and come out with everything we got because it's all on the line this week,” said Gatto.

Notes: Ridgefield took a 10-0 lead over McMahon in the first quarter on Gatto's 19-yard touchdown pass to Gaydos and Woodger's 35-yard field goal.

McMahon scored on a two-yard run with 9:26 left in the second quarter. The Tigers blocked the extra point, leaving their lead at 10-6.