GREENWICH — After jumping out to a 20-0 first-half lead this afternoon against Ridgefield, the Greenwich football team asked its defense to work overtime to preserve it.
And the unit delivered, occasionally bending but taking advantage of two momentum-changing fumbles to help Greenwich come away with a 27-7 win at Cardinal Stadium.
The outcome all but guaranteed Greenwich (8-1) a berth in the Class LL playoffs and the chance to defend its state title. The Cardinals are currently sixth in the rankings, one spot ahead of Ridgefield (7-2), which is still in a great position to qualify.
Take away a 27-21 loss to Darien and the Cardinals have allowed just 44 points in their other eight games. The defense helped grab the lead today and then carried the offense in the second half.
“They came up big,” Greenwich coach Anthony Morello said. “The offense grew stagnant a little bit in the second half and we needed a pick-me-up, and the defense has been there all year and today was no exception. A great effort by our defense. The old saying defense wins championships.”
Ridgefield fumbled the ball away on its first possession of the third quarter, but on the next play Alex Hanna, the Tigers’ outstanding cornerback, picked off Greenwich quarterback James Rinello.
The Tigers went on a 12-play, 70-yard drive, helped by one of two punt fakes they successively executed. Owen Matthews’ 15-yard touchdown pass to Nick Agliardo made the score 20-7 with 5:23 left in the third.
Ridgefield drove again on its next possession and got down to the 1-yard line. But on the final play of the third quarter, the Cardinals’ Will Montesi recovered a fumbled exchange.
“That was a huge play,” said linebacker Evan Weigold. “I’m not really sure who picked it up, who forced it. If they scored there it would have been a game and it would have been tough to hold them off so that was huge.”
Weigold came up with the second-biggest play in the half. Trying to rally in the fourth quarter, the Tigers fumbled the ball into a scrum of players. Weigold picked it up, headed for the end zone and his 62-yard return with 5:03 left accounted for the Cardinals’ only scoring since midway through the second quarter.
“Everyone was swarming to the ball, I saw it on the ground, didn’t hear a whistle so I said all right I’ll pick it up and run it back,” Weigold said.
The was the final frustration for Ridgefield, which held the Cardinals to just 204 yards on offense.
“It comes down to fumbling on the one, it comes down to them returning that fumble for a touchdown,” Ridgefield coach Kevin Callahan said. “That’s what it really came down to. We came out slow, we didn’t play well in the first half. A lot of that was because of the field possession battle we dealt with. We felt confident at halftime we could do some good things. We didn’t feel we were out of it. That showed with the resolve to play the way we did. It was unfortunate it ended the way it did.”
The game did not look like it would be competitive early. The Cardinals started the game with Rinello hitting Mason Muir in nearly the same area on the left side of the end zone, from nine and six yards out, for a 14-0 lead.
Rinello’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Matt Pilc with 4:12 in the half extended the advantage, after a missed extra point, to 20-0.
Greenwich’s offense did little the rest of the game but fortunately didn’t have to.
“We were shooting ourselves in the foot offensively, we threw an interception to start the third quarter. We weren’t on the field very much in the third quarter,” Morello said. “We weren’t hitting holes right with our backs. Every time we went forward we seemed to take a step back offensively. The defense was on the field almost the entire second half. Despite cramping, despite some nicks snd bruises here and there, they stepped up. They stepped up big.”