Greenwich entered halftime of Friday night’s football showdown against Shelton embroiled in a tie against its unfamiliar foe, even though the Gaels controlled the tempo with their vaunted running attack.
Yet it all caught up to the Cardinals in a big way in the second half.
The second half belonged to host Shelton, which used the running of Shane Santiago, Tyler Rich and Ayden Sepkaski, to compile an eye-opening 343 yards rushing on its way to registering a convincing 35-14 victory over visiting Greenwich.
Shelton outscored Greenwich, 21-0, in the second half, controlling the game and the clock with its running game. Santiago was a standout on both sides of the ball for the Gaels. He took the majority of the shotgun snaps at quarterback and also started in the defensive backfield for Shelton. Running behind his offensive linemen, Santiago, Rich and Sepkaski consistently gained positive rushing yards throughout.
Indeed, the Gaels, who entered the game feeling they had something to prove, made a significant statement with the win against a storied Greenwich program before their home crowd.
“We showed that this is the way Shelton football is,” Santiago said. “This is how we play. We came in with a big chip on our shoulder, everyone doubted us and we knew we just had to get it done and we did. We will most definitely carry this momentum through the whole season.”
Greenwich (2-1), which opened its 2021 season with victories against Westhill and Ridgefield, led 7-0 following the first quarter and went into halftime tied at 14-14 against Shelton. Junior quarterback Jack Wilson, who was banged up a bit and left the game late in the second half, completed 8 of 17 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns for the Cardinals, who received 83 receiving yards from senior wide receiver Chason Barber.
In catch-up mode during the second half, the Cards weren’t able to get the balance they were seeking on offense. They rushed for just 54 yards, while Shelton gained more than 300 on the ground.
“Unfortunately being down in the game changes the game plan and it plays into their strengths defensively,” Greenwich coach Anthony Morello said. “They were allowed to back off and we just couldn’t get the ground game going tonight. Hats off to Shelton’s offensive and defensive line, I thought they played outstanding football tonight and they won the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.”
The Gaels gained 22 first downs, compared to 10 by the Cardinals and possessed the ball for more than 32 minutes, while Greenwich had the ball for just over 15. The victors ran 66 plays, 22 more than the Cardinals.
“Shelton is really good football team,” Morello said. “Shelton came to play tonight. They had a good game plan offensively, obviously, they saw something in our defense and they took advantage of it. They were able to just dictate the tempo of the game, push the pace. I’m sure their third down conversion rate was probably through the roof tonight. Our defense couldn’t get off the field and our offense couldn’t stay on the field.”
Shelton threatened to score first, but its long drive, sparked by the running of Santiago, a senior, was halted when Greenwich senior cornerback John Scarlata intercepted a pass at the 1-yard line. The Cardinals’ best moments of the game came on the ensuing drive, as they moved 99 yards in 10 plays, capped by Barber’s 60-yard touchdown reception. On the touchdown, Wilson executed a pump fake, Barber got behind Shelton’s secondary and Wilson lofted a pass down the left sideline that Barber caught and took to the end zone for a 60-yard score on the last play of the first quarter.
The Gaels’ got their running game going in a big way on the ensuing possession, marching 73 yards for a score – all on the ground. Santiago, senior Tyler Rich and junior Ayden Sepkaski, each kept the first-down chains moving with positive rushing yards. Santiago’s 3-yard touchdown run out of shotgun formation, evened the score at 7-7 at the 5:41 mark of the second quarter.
Greenwich used another huge play to regain the lead, as Wilson connected with junior wide receiver Logan Galletta for a 50-yard scoring strike with 3:30 left in the second quarter. Junior Sergot Boone’s PAT gave the Cards their final lead of the night at 14-7 – a lead that quickly disappeared.
Rich capped a 64-yard drive with a 30-yard touchdown run with 1:33 to go in the second quarter. Every yard on the Gaels’ score-tying drive came on the ground, with Santiago and Rich running the ball out of the shotgun and following their offensive linemen, which got a substantial push off the line of scrimmage each play. Senior Michael Camiglio, Jeremy Oko (senior) and junior Jason Santos helped pace the Gaels’ effective offensive line.
“We saved this formation for three weeks, this is what we’ve been waiting for,” Santiago said. “We just pounded and grounded, literally, and grounded and pounded. Our offensive line, they’re really tough and aggressive and when they are told what to do they are going to do it.”
Recovering a Cardinals fumble at the Greenwich 24-yard line, the Gaels threatened to take a lead into halftime, but junior linebacker Matthew Trimmer intercepted a Shelton pass in the end zone to end opening half and the teams went into intermission knotted at 14-14.
The second half began in ominous fashion for the Cardinals, as Wilson couldn’t handle a shotgun snap and the Gaels recovered at the GHS 10-yard line. Two plays later, Sepkaski ran it in from eight yards out, giving the home team the lead for good at 21-14 39 seconds into the fourth quarter.
Later in the third quarter, Shelton embarked on a time-consuming 86-yard drive, which Santiago concluded with an 8-yard run around the left corner. Christiano Rosa converted his fourth PAT and Shelton seized a 28-14 advantage with 4:24 to go in the third quarter. Once again, another Shelton scoring drive featured running plays only.
“They dominated us and that should not be happening,” Greenwich senior linebacker Luke Ware said. “They did what they wanted. At the front seven, we got dominated, they passed the ball four times and ran the ball right at us the entire game and that just cannot happen.”
The victors added another touchdown run with less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter, putting the finishing touch on their impressive win.
Junior quarterback Holden Brown ran Greenwich’s offense its last two possessions, as Wilson seemed to get banged up a bit. Galletta had 62 receiving yards, while senior Zach Mantione caught a pair of passes for the Cards, who saw Ware register 7.5 tackles, Trimmer make 6.5 and senior Jake Carifa tally 6.5.
“We recognize our mistakes, the problem is we’re not fixing them,” Ware said. “We have a long week of practice to prepare for Fairfield Prep, but we’ll get through it. They are a good team and they are going to try to do the same thing that Shelton just did.”
Indeed, Greenwich must turn the page quickly, as it faces a formidable Fairfield Prep team on Oct. 2.
“You have to have a short term memory in football,” Morello said. “We are going to see what we did wrong and focus our attention on Fairfield Prep, because that game will be here before you know it.”