RIDGEFIELD — The Ridgefield High School football team during the past half decade had one of the best records in the state from the second week on.
The first week? At 1-4, one of the worst.
Don’t think that wasn’t somewhere in the mind of the Tigers Friday night, after they fell behind Trumbull at the half, 27-10, and more so after their scoring drive to start the second half was offset on the following play by Markeese Woods’ 72-yard touchdown run through a huge hole up the middle, giving the Eagles a 33-17 lead.
It would have been a knockout punch for less talented and experienced players. And for a less mature quarterback. But the Tigers’ Drew Fowler, after a subpar start, rebounded in resounding fashion, leading his team to 29 unanswered points and a 46-33 win that could have long-term implications.
“Our coach just really emphasized poise,” said Fowler, part of a strong senior class that is chippy after missing out on a state tournament berth a year ago on bonus points. “We’re a veteran team, we know we can score on any play and you see what happened on the scoreboard.”
The Tigers had been led by receivers not named Chris Longo and Collin Lowe until late in the third quarter, when Fowler found Longo, who turned a completion into a 57-yard gain by carrying a defender on his back. That set up Fowler’s 1-yard touchdown run with 35 seconds left in the quarter. A two-point conversion pass to Shane Palmer made the score 33-25.
In the fourth quarter, Lowe outleaped a defender for a 36-yard touchdown, Luke Gaydos’ interception set up Fowler’s 31-yard touchdown pass to Palmer and a conversion completion to Longo, and insurance came when Lowe got behind the defense for a 39-yard score.
“Drew became Drew,” Ridgefield coach Kevin Callahan said of the comeback. “I hate to say it’s a Jekyll-and-Hyde thing. I don’t think this will be our MO for the rest of the year, but clearly Drew took the responsibility of being a leader, knowing he made mistakes in the first half too. He came out and showed everybody in the second half who Drew really is.”
In the first half, when Fowler admitted he needed to overcome jitters and rediscover his poise, he completed just 3 of 8 passes for 40 yards. In the second half he was 17 of 22 for 257 yards and four scores.
“I think it really shows the character of our team,” Fowler said. “We were down at halftime and we put up some big numbers in the second half and pulled the game out.”
Friday’s game has been hyped since the schedule came out, an early battle between heavyweights with aspirations beyond just qualifying for the state playoffs. With difficult schedules, a loss was going to leave little margin for error.
Callahan said his team felt under a microscope both because of the way last year ended and the importance of the opener. The first-week blues were also discussed.
“We knew that and it is what it is,” Callahan said. “It’s true. For them to get down like that knowing we haven’t been doing well in the first game of the year, you think it is going to snowball but fortunately it didn’t. I think if this was a young team we couldn’t have rebounded like this.”
It was a bad loss for the Eagles, who dominated the first half. Quarterback Johnny McElroy finished 24 for 41 and 281 yards, but like his team struggled in the second half.
Despite the defeat, Trumbull showed it has too much talent to give up on the season, but they will have to summon the resolve to shake off the loss and regroup.
The Tigers’ reward? A trip to New Canaan next Friday night. A loss against Trumbull would have turned it into a must win. The outlook now is different, and could prove a catapult toward their lofty goals.
“For me it was when are we going to stop making mistakes,” Callahan said. “When are we going to stop being a bad football team tonight and will it be with enough time to win this game.”