It will go down as one of the most gut-wrenching defeats in the history of Ridgefield High School football.

After dominating the first three quarters and leading 35-10 with 11 minutes to play, Ridgefield was left reeling by an improbable St. Joseph rally that produced 28 unanswered points and a 38-35 victory for the host Cadets in Trumbull on Saturday afternoon.

With quarterback Greg Gatto tossing five touchdown passes — three to junior receiver Jackson Mitchell — Ridgefield (3-2) appeared headed for its fourth win in five games this season. That outcome seemed a bit more certain when the Tigers held St. Joseph (4-1) on a fourth and goal from the Ridgefield nine-yard line at the start of the final quarter.

But from there, everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the visitors.

Following that fourth-down stop, Ridgefield got the ball back but went three-and-out. The Tigers were forced to punt from just outside their own end zone, and St. Joseph took over with good field position at the Ridgefield 41-yard line.

A keeper by quarterback David Summers got the Cadets to the 36, and two key passes advanced them to the Ridgefield five-yard line. On first and goal, Summers bobbled the snap but was able to recover and fire a pass to Will Diamantis for the touchdown. The extra point left Ridgefield ahead, 35-17, with 8:08 left in the game.

St. Joseph then executed a well-placed onside kick that evaded Ridgefield’s return team, allowing the Cadets to recover the ball on the Tigers' 39-yard line. "The ball was kicked hard and took an awkward bounce," said Ridgefield senior Thomas Formus, who was on the field for the play. "Their guy pounced on it like he's practiced."

In military fashion, St Joseph marched down the field and scored on a 12-yard TD pass from Summers to Jared Mallozzi, cutting the Ridgefield lead to 35-24 with 6:31 remaining.

Suddenly starring in a horror remake of Groundhog Day, the Tigers fell victim to another St. Joseph trick kick. This one was popped over the front line of the return team and bounced off a Ridgefield player's hand, with St. Joseph recovering in a scrum on the Tigers' 25-yard line.

Four plays later, the Cadets were back in the end zone, scoring on Summers' one-yard run. St. Joseph missed the two-point conversion, leaving Ridgefield ahead, 35-30, with 5:53 left.

St. Joseph went for another pop kick, but Ridgefield's Aidan Schwartz was able to corral the ball and return it to the Tigers' 40-yard line. After another three-and-out, Ridgefield had to punt again, and the Cadets took over on their own 31-yard line with 4:07 left.

On third and three from the St. Joseph 38-yard line, Summers dropped back and threw a long incompletion. But a controversial pass interference call on the play gave the Cadets a first down. Summers then teamed with Jaden Shirden for a 27-yard pass play to the Ridgefield 20-yard line. From there, Summers connected with tight end Phil Pasmeg for the go-ahead touchdown, then hit Mallozzi on the two-point conversion, putting St. Joseph in front, 38-35, with 2:48 remaining.

The Tigers began their final drive at their own 12-yard line. On a fourth-and-and six play, Gatto hit Mitchell, who ran to the sideline and up the field to the St. Joseph 43-yard line. With time ticking, Gatto was stuffed for no gain on third and one from the 34 with 40.6 seconds left. Ridgefield had to rush the fourth-down play, and under heavy pressure Gatto threw an incomplete pass that turned the ball over on downs. The Cadets then ran out the clock to complete their comeback, the second largest in state history, according to CIAC record books.

It was a crushing setback for Ridgefield, which saw its chances of qualifying for a second-straight Class LL state tournament take a serious hit. With five games left, the Tigers are now 14th in the Class LL point rankings — the top-eight teams advance to the state playoffs.

"This is obviously a brutal loss that I think we're all beside ourselves with," said senior receiver/cornerback Luke Gaydos, "but one thing that I keep thinking about is how well we played early in the game, and how if we can play like that for four quarters for the rest of the year, we're going to be a team that no one wants to play."

For three quarters Saturday, Ridgefield was massively impressive.

After spotting St. Joseph a 3-0 lead on a 28-yard field goal, the Tigers scored 35 of the next 42 points. Gatto's 36-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Evan Wein put Ridgefield ahead, 7-3, by the end of the first quarter. Gatto then connected with Gaydos, who made a diving catch for a 24-yard touchdown and a 14-7 lead with 8:04 left in the opening half.

Summers' seven-yard TD pass to Pasmeg whittled St. Joseph's deficit to 14-10, but Gatto then tossed a nine-yard touchdown pass to Mitchell to give Ridgefield a 21-10 halftime lead.

The Tigers continued their air assault in the third quarter, getting touchdown passes of 55 and 14 yards from Gatto to Mitchell, who finished with 17 receptions for 246 yards.

But while that was the end of the scoring for Ridgefield, St. Joseph still had four touchdowns left in its tank.

Notes: Gatto completed 34-of-48 passes for 407 yards and five touchdowns. He now has thrown 17 TD passes in Ridgefield's last four games.

Summers, who transferred to St. Joseph from Fairfield Warde, also excelled. The junior quarterback completed 31 of 47 passes for 311 yards and four touchdowns.

Ridgefield had two touchdowns negated by penalties on its first possession of the game. Gatto's four-yard run was called back due to holding, and Gaydos' 19-yard catch in the end zone was waved off due to offensive pass interference.