WESTPORT — Luke Gaydos made a welcome return to the field for Ridgefield tonight. Sidelined with a back injury that caused him to miss the first three games, Gaydos caught a 1-yard touchdown pass with 1:42 remaining to lift the Tigers to a 24-20 win at Staples.
Ridgefield had failed on two previous plays from the 1. On third down, quarterback Greg Gatto hit Gaydos on the left side, and he was able to make a tough catch and extend himself over the goal line, giving the Tigers their third straight win after a season-opening loss.
“They (isolated) me on the back side and put the game in my hands, and I stepped up and did it,” said Gaydos, who had three catches on what was an eight-play, 65-yard drive after the Tigers had been held scoreless since the final minute of the first quarter. “I was trying to hit the pylon but I was able to get it over.”
This was a rare FCIAC game this season that lived up to the hype, and it was one of momentum swings. Ridgefield scored on its first three possessions to take a 17-0 lead. It quickly brought back memories to a year ago, a 42-7 Ridgefield win that sent the Wreckers on a season-ending four-game spiral.
This Staples team has a number of playmakers, and they rallied the team into the lead. On a third-down play in the second quarter, Kevin Rabacs caught a 46-yard pass from quarterback Danny Thompson that set up Harris Levi’s 4-yard scoring run. After a failed conversion, the Wreckers trailed, 17-6.
Jack Beck’s interception on the next possession set up Rabacs’ 72 yard-touchdown catch from Thompson on an option play in which the quarterback handed the ball off and then got it back. Staples trailed at the break by just 17-13.
“Halftime it was one big play and a trick play that got us,” Ridgefield coach Kevin Callahan said. “Defensively I thought we were playing well. Offensively we piled up a lot of stats today but they got pretty stiff around the goal line a couple of times.”
Levi carried the ball seven times on an eight-play drive to open the second half. He had one fourth-down conversion, and Thompson connected with Max Lonergan on a 28-yard play. Levi’s 11-yard run in which he rolled over a defender and into the end zone put the Wreckers ahead, 20-17, with 7:45 left in the third quarter.
From there the defenses took over. The best scoring threat came from Ridgefield, which drove to the Wreckers’ 13 at the start of the final quarter. Jake Thaw’s acrobatic interception in the end zone preserved the lead.
The Tigers were able to go ahead the next time they touched the ball, with Gaydos making his presence felt.
“It’s nice to have him back,” Callahan said. “He gives us another element as an athlete. We’re obviously not running the ball very well so when we get down to the goal line the game becomes more horizontal than vertical, and it’s a little bit more difficult if you’re throwing the ball. It’s not so easy to get in. Fortunately we’ve got a kid like Luke, he made an adjustment, caught a tough pass and got across the end zone.”
The outcome was especially pivotal because both teams have difficult games next weekend. Staples (3-1) faces Darien, which is riding a 29-game winning streak. The Tigers travel to St. Joseph, which is also 3-1 and has a win over New Canaan.
“It’s really frustrating,” Thomspon said. “We really didn’t play well today but to be in the game with a team like that, we have to be proud of ourselves, but we’re not taking any moral victories. We want to win every game, that’s what we’re about. We’re not here just to compete with teams.”
Callahan was understandably relieved afterward.
“This was destined to happen tonight, two good teams going at it,” Callahan said. “Different teams dynamically with the offenses and defenses. Two teams that the kids are program kids. They work hard. They have a culture that they feel they are part of and how important this is to them. You don’t get easy wins coming into Staples. It’s a great win.”