Ridgefield routs Danbury, 41-0, in finale (updated)

It took the Ridgefield High football team a bit longer than usual to get on the scoreboard last Wednesday night. But once the Tigers did, they were unstoppable.

Behind a suffocating defensive effort, Ridgefield ended its season with a 7-3 record by routing Danbury, 41-0, in the two teams’ annual FCIAC Thanksgiving Rivalry game at Tiger Hollow.

The shutout was Ridgefield’s second of the season and its sixth time holding a team under 10 points. The Tigers’ front six spent most of their day in the Danbury backfield, stuffing the Hatters’ running game.

“It was a great way to end the season for our defense,” said senior linebacker Noah Isaacson. “We know how good of a defense we really are, so to finish it off with a shutout is a fitting way to go out.”

“I thought our pass rush was great,” added senior nose tackle John Schneider. “It was awesome to finish the year with such an explosive game.”

Following a slow start — three-and-outs on its first two possessions — the Ridgefield offense began firing on all cylinders. Superb blocking by offensive linemen Michael Turner, Rob Scialo, Chris D’Entrone, Connor Goff, and Brian Williams helped running back Aidan Schwartz and quarterback Greg Gatto move the ball on the ground.

“Our goal coming into our last game was to finish our season strong and to finish our blocks strong,” said Scialo. “We practiced against our defense every day all year and going up against (linebackers) Noah (Isaacson), (Alex) Cali and (Connor) Goff really made it a lot easier for us to execute.”

Ridgefield began its third possession of the game with 37.8 seconds left in the first quarter. Three runs by Schwartz moved the Tigers from their 42-yard line to the Danbury 11. From there, Gatto ran for a touchdown and Harry Woodger added the extra point to give Ridgefield a 7-0 lead with 11:37 remaining in the first quarter.

Another three-and-out by Danbury gave Ridgefield an opportunity to increase its lead. But a long march down the field yielded no points after the Tigers turned the ball over on downs at the Danbury four-yard line.

Ridgefield’s defense continued to wreak havoc on the Danbury offensive line. “We really got after the QB up front,” said Alex Cali. “John Schneider got a lot of pressure up the middle and Jason (Donovan), Noah (Isaacson), and I were really able to just win our one-on-ones and get into the backfield.”

The Tigers’ offense continued to lean on its running game to end the half. Schwartz was able to hit the gaps and move Ridgefield down the field, setting up Gatto’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Luke Gaydos, who made a basket-style catch in the back of the end zone to put the Tigers ahead, 14-0, with 1:38 left in the half.

On the opening play of Danbury’s ensuing possession, junior Jackson Mitchell intercepted a pass and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown, extending Ridgefield’s lead to 21-0 going into halftime.

“In the secondary, we were focused on one thing all game: a shutout,” said Gaydos. “We all banded together and didn’t let any big pass plays downfield. It was amazing to walk off the field for the last time seeing that 0 on the scoreboard.”

Ridgefield’s passing game opened up in the second half. On the Tigers’ second possession of the third quarter, Gatto found senior wide receiver Jimmy Kulik in the back-right corner of the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown pass and a 27-0 lead (following a blocked extra point).

The hosts then put together a 63-yard scoring march early in the fourth quarter. Gatto started the drive by firing a pass to Mitchell. Then he hit Kulik and junior wideout Evan Wein to put Ridgefield on the Danbury 28. On second and 10, Gatto threw to a double-covered Kulik, who jumped over his defenders to make the catch in the end zone and put Ridgefield up, 34-0, with 7:42 remaining.

“Before the game all I was telling myself was that I had to leave it all out on the field or I’ll regret it for the rest of my life,” said Kulik. “We’re lucky to have no regrets after this game.”

Danbury’s next drive ended with an interception by senior safety Thomas Formus. “It was great signing off from high school football with an interception and a shutout win,” said Formus. “I've been playing with most of these guys since third grade; we've all become best friends and I couldn't be prouder. I'm going to miss playing under the lights for my community.”

Ridgefield’s final score of the night came on a five-yard pass from Gatto to Gaydos that made it 41-0 with 4:01 left. The game, and the season, then ended with senior defensive end Jason Donovan sacking the Danbury quarterback.

“It's hard playing in a game knowing afterwards it’ll be the last time you get to walk-off the field,” said Donovan. “But I think it showed that we took advantage of the moment down to the very last play.”

Notes: Ridgefield finished the season 11th in the Class LL playoff point rankings. The top-eight teams qualified for the Class LL playoffs.

Danbury ended the season with a 1-9 record.