RIDGEFIELD — Ridgefield cornerback Alex Hanna said practice was a little different this week. Not just because the Tigers were 4-0, ranked seventh in the state and making a run at a postseason berth.
This was Wilton week, six days to prepare for the team’s biggest rival.
Six days to prepare to protect the streak.
As everyone in the two towns can tell you — and those in Ridgefield often will — the Tigers over the last quarter century had gone 21-0-1 against Wilton heading into tonight’s game. No player wants to be on the team that relinquishes this run.
“We were all hitting a little harder and I think it showed,” Hanna said after the Tigers maintained bragging rights for another year with a 21-0 win highlighted by a spectacular defensive effort in a hard-fought contest.
The Tigers added to another streak: three straight games without allowing a point.
“We are coming off two straight shutouts so we have full confidence,” Hanna said. “They don’t run anything tricky, basically the same routes as we do. We stayed disciplined and just did our jobs.”
The Warriors (3-2) dominated the first half. They had the ball for 19 minutes and two seconds. They had a 12-play, 68-yard drive.
Unfortunately, they also had a 7-0 deficit at the break after getting burned on a trick play. That was an unenviable position against an opponent that had, and used, its superior depth down the stretch.
“They were moving the ball on us,” Ridgefield coach Kevin Callahan said. “They are very physical. I don’t want to say I was impressed because we knew they were a physical team, but they showed it. It was a slugfest. You saw kids getting jolted out there. We knew it would be that type of game.”
The Tigers scored on their second possession of the third quarter and their defense, with Hanna leading a tremendous effort in the secondary and Reid Englert spearheading a relentless pass rush, leading the way.
“I think it’s a bit of the credit to the coaches and the kids making adjustments at halftime,” Callahan said. “Being better at stopping what they did best, which was obviously our priority, trying to get to plan B. Also possessing the ball and giving our defense a break. They did a lot of work in the first half.”
The Tigers maximized their time with the ball, though they needed to go deep into the playbook to solve the Warriors. Declan McNamara, who made a strong run at the starting quarterback job in the preseason before losing out to Owen Matthews, took a side pass from Matthews and hit Owen Gaydos, who was wide open, for a 48-yard touchdown with 9:56 left in the half.
“I thought the guys were really focused,” Wilton coach EJ DiNunzio said. “We held them to a few plays in the first half but when you don’t put points on the board you’re asking for trouble.”
Wilton’s Drew Phillips had a terrific game on both sides of the ball, but the Warriors could muster nothing offensively in the second half, save for a long kickoff return by Thoby Wooder.
“My guys don’t get discouraged but you look at the sideline and you have no points on the board. It takes a toll,” DiNunzio said. “They have maybe two or three guys going both ways and we have seven or eight. They are going to wear you down and they did. So not being able to take advantage of anything in the first half just killed us.”
Matthews hit Gianni Gorham in the left corner of the end zone from the 15 in the third quarter and Kai Prohaszka scored on a five-yard run in the fourth.
Ridgefield’s reserves made a difference on offense as well. Danny Moroney got a bulk of the work running the ball late.
You look at using Maroney in the second half as a tailback,” Callahan said. “That makes a nice little changeup from Kai, going to the curveball from the fastball. I thought that helped a lot.”
And Hanna, who has been one of the FCIAC’s biggest impact players, had a number of passes defended, and ended the Warriors’ long first-had drive with a red-zone interception.
“He can go up against kids 6-4 and make plays,” Callahan said. “I’m a big fan of his. He stepped up in a game like this, which we will need going forward. The whole secondary was tremendous.”
Hanna said the defensive backs still play as if they have something to prove.
“People look at us and don’t really give us the respect that we deserve,” Hanna said. “They try to test us deep and we don’t let any of it happen. That’s just the kind of team we are.”
The kind that can go 25 years without losing to the school in the town with a shared border.
“It means everything to us,” Hanna said. “It goes to the kind of culture we have here.