SHELTON – In his three years at New Canaan High School, Drew Pyne hasn’t experienced many forgettable moments. He had one tonight, however, in the state Class LL quarterfinals at Shelton. But something he learned in middle school saved the day.
“In eighth grade I learned the word amnesia,” the Rams quarterback said. “You forget it and move on.”
Pyne forgot about his fumble that set up Shelton’s game-tying touchdown in the third quarter tonight. And then he moved on . . . leading the Rams to three scores in the final 10½ minutes and to a 42-34 victory over the top seed.
“You want to forget it, but you also want to learn from mistakes,” Pyne said after throwing for 220 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 88 yards and another score. “You have to be resilient and that’s what we did. It was a team effort.”
The Rams (9-2), the preseason No. 1, who looked as if they would not make the postseason after a 3-2 start, defeated then No. 1 Darien on Thanksgiving Day and then did indeed use a team effort to beat a No. 1 team for the second time in five days.
“I can’t remember but I don’t think we’ve ever done that,” said Marinelli, whose No. 8-seeded team will face No. 5 Fairfield Prep in Sunday’s semifinals (at Prep, 12:30 p.m.).
Pyne’s top receiving threat, Quintin O’Connell, had a career game with 13 receptions for 173 yards and three scores. Running back J.R. Moore added 93 rushing yards and a touchdown. The defense, meanwhile, led by Jack Stewart, Jack Conley and Drew Guida, which, yes, did give up five touchdowns, also played well, holding the Gaels (10-1) to three points below their per-game average.
“The kids came through,” said Marinelli, who will be shooting for his 13th state title over all, his 11th since 2001 and fifth in six years. “The defense really played well, but started to wear down late.”
Shelton, which led 7-0 just before halftime thanks to an impressive 99-yard drive, then trailed 21-7 before tying the score at 21 following Pyne’s fumble. But that wasn’t enough to keep up with Pyne and the Rams’ offense.
That was 42 points for the Rams in just over 24 minutes . . . against the top-seeded Class LL team.
“They confused us in the first half with different coverages,” Marinelli said. “But we got a handle on it at halftime.”
After Pyne led them on a near-perfect two-minute drill to tie it on an 18-yard pass to O’Connell with 28 seconds left in the half, the Rams scored twice in the first 2:36 of the third quarter. First came a brilliant 78-yard touchdown to O’Connell on the third play of the half, where a scrambling Pyne expertly kept himself from crossing the line of scrimmage. Then the defense forced a turnover and Guida picked up a fumble and ran it in from 12 yards out for a 21-7 lead.
But Shelton, led by quarterback Jake Roberts (15 for 29, 176 yards and three touchdowns passing; 19 carries, 99 yards, two TDs rushing), rallied. On the second play of Shelton’s next possession, wideout Brian Berrito was injured on an 18-yard gain and the game was halted until the ambulance came to bring Berrito to the hospital.
The event seemed to spark the Gaels, who scored on their next possession when Roberts hit David Yakowicz on a 25-yard pass.
And then on their next possession the Gaels tied it with 1:06 left in the third quarter when Roberts ran in from three yards out, three plays after Pyne fumbled on a scramble.
“We had the momentum but then they went down and scored twice and tied it after my fumble,” Pyne said. “But we regrouped and came out with fire.”
Pine quickly made up for his mistake. First came a five-yard scoring pass to O’Connell before Moore raced 42 yards for a 35-21 lead with 3:32 remaining in the game.
Shelton would not give up, though, as Yakowicz (eight receptions for 120 yards) hauled in another score. Then, while just trying to milk the clock, Pyne ran 38 yards for a touchdown with just over a minute left to play.
Roberts answered again with a TD pass with 31 seconds remaining but the Gaels’ last gasp attempt at an onside kick – which they recovered – was ruled an illegal touch before 10 yards. And the Rams, almost left for dead after five games — before amnesia set in — were headed to the semis.
“When we were 3-2 we still thought the states were possible,” Pyne said. “We always knew what we were capable of.”