RIDGEFIELD — When a teammate dropped an interception that would have secured a win and the inside track to a state playoff berth, Ridgefield’s Chris Longo was in disbelief.
First he threw his helmet down. Then he used some language that cannot be repeated here.
The Tigers had waited a year to position themselves to return to the postseason. The seniors were freshmen the last time the Tiger Hollow Field lights were still needed in December.
“It felt like every second of this game could have gone either way,” Longo said.
Moments later Ridgefield had finished off a 30-21 win over Greenwich that was essentially a Class LL play-in game, and Longo’s words echoed as a concise analysis.
“We knew we controlled our own destiny and we could do it with these guys, we didn’t need help from anybody,” Longo said. “I’m pretty happy right now.”
A year after missing the playoffs on a tiebreaker to Staples, a team it had defeated during the regular season, Ridgefield (7-2) made sure there were no questions marks, only exclamation points.
After Greenwich scored four plays into the second half for a 21-17 lead, the Tigers pitched a shutout the rest of the way, helped by four turnovers by the Cardinals.
“We had our chances,” Greenwich coach John Marinelli said. “We played them tough defensively. It’s not like they stopped us. Unforced errors and stupid plays. We’ll learn from it for sure. Get better from it.”
Longo was a key factor to the outcome. Used mostly on short passes early — he had three catches during a 15-play, 85-yard drive to open the game — Longo’s 68-yard reception two plays after the Cardinals’ go-ahead score set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Patrick Lang that gave Ridgefield the lead for good, 24-21.
After the Cardinals failed on a fake punt, Longo’s 20-yard pass from Drew Fowler provided the insurance score with 6:51 left in the third quarter.
Ridgefield coach Kevin Callahan said an extended halftime because of senior night activities helped make adjustments to get the ball to Longo downfield.
“Obviously you never know how a team is going to defend you,” Callahan said. “We got some ideas how to work the middle a little bit. It was what they were giving us but they were bringing pressure too. A big thing was getting first downs with him. I knew time of possession would be critical today even though we are both in a hurry-up offense, when you have two evenly matched teams.”
Both teams traded points — and turnovers — in bunches. After the Tigers took the early lead on a 1-yard run by Shane Palmer, the Cardinals answered with a 27-yard touchdown pass from Connor Langan to Henry Saleeby.
The Cardinals took their lone lead on an 8-yard score by Kevin Iobbi on the second play of the second quarter.
Greenwich got the ball back on one of the Tigers’ two first-half turnovers, but Patrick Lang, who was outstanding, made a stop on a fourth-down play for Ridgefield.
Ridgefield tied the game at 14-14 on Fowler’s 15-yard run after he had completed a 55-yard pass to Palmer.
Petros Papadopoulos’ 43-yard field goal gave the Tigers a 17-14 halftime lead.
Greenwich is 6-3 and ends the season against Staples. It is possible the Cardinals’ lone losses this year will come against the three FCIAC teams to earn state playoff berths. Their other defeats were to Darien and New Canaan, the top two teams in the state.
Ridgefield is currently sixth in the Class LL rankings. It faces Danbury, which is 2-7, in the final game Thanksgiving morning.
“We just have to take care of business, which I think we should be pretty focused on,” Callahan said. “It’s hard to get away from how big this game was. It’s a great way for the seniors to finish up here at Tigrer Hollow.”