RIDGEFIELD — Coming off a crushing loss in an offensive shootout last weekend, the Ridgefield football team found itself today in a defensive battle against its biggest rival.
The Tigers rode a pair of first-half touchdowns — with quarterback Greg Gatto running for one and passing for the other — and used a tireless defensive effort to defeat Wilton, 17-3, at Tiger Hollow.
It was the teams’ first meeting since 2014 and the Tigers continued their dominance, with 20 wins and a tie in the last 21 games.
“Our coaches gave us a great game plan of making everybody have a responsibility, and if everyone sticks to their responsibility then it will all work out,” said Ridgefield linebacker Noah Isaacson, who was all over the field and had a sack and pressure on quarterback Brian Calabrese on successive plays on Wilton’s final possession.”
Ridgefield (4-2) was held to its fewest points since a 38-12 loss to Darien on opening night, but the defense, which was supposed to be the team’s biggest strength coming into the season, held an opponent under 8 points for the third time.
The Warriors’ running game is difficult to prepare for, but after giving up 28 straight fourth-quarter points and a 35-10 lead in a loss to St. Joseph a week earlier, the schedule might have been opportune for the Tigers.
“It’s a difficult week to prepare for Wilton no matter what we came off of, and it is difficult to simulate what they do very well,” Ridgefield coach Kevin Callahan said. “They are a very good team and a very physical team and it was a challenge to our defense, and they really stepped up and the great thing is they played fast and physical.
“I think it was good to go up against a good team and a good program,” Callahan added. “I think if we were to come up against a team that was not as much of a challenge, we wouldn’t have known if we really truly had taken the next step. We were tested today, we were challenged, it was actually a much closer game than it felt like. This is just what the doctor ordered, to play well against a good team and be successful.”
Ridgefield went ahead on Gatto’s 3-yard pass to Luke Gaydos with 2:06 left in the opening quarter. Gatto then led a seven-play, 74-yard drive late in the half, with a 17-yard pass to Jackson Mitchell and a 22-yard completion to Gaydos, which was followed by a penalty, setting up the quarterback’s 10-yard run that made the score 14-0 with 51 seconds remaining in the half.
The Warriors had a chance to answer after Calabrese’s 30-yard pass to Drew Phillips got them to the Ridgefield 10, but a motion penalty and incompletion ended the half.
The defenses dominated the second half. Wilton’s Kyle Shifrin had an interception on the second play to set up Will Sullivan’s 37-yard field goal. The Warriors started drives in Ridgefield territory on two other occasions but came away scoreless.
The Tigers’ one sustained drive of the second half was well timed, leading to Harry Woodger’s 25-yard field goal with 1:51 remaining.
“I thought we moved the ball well in the second half at times and every time we got something going they would come and we’d get a negative play,” Wilton coach Bruce Cunningham said. “Give them credit. They came up with the play when they had to. I think that was the tale of the second half for the most part.”
It was a difficult week for Cunningham. His father passed away on Monday, and he was absent from practice for three days. If his players did not deliver the outcome they hoped, it was not for lack of effort.
“I thought defensively we played great today,” Cunningham said. “I think we were out there too long at times and we had to get off the field. I thought we did a good job of keeping them from any big plays. They had one circus catch but I don’t think they had any real explosive plays besides that. The game unfolded pretty much the way I thought we had to play it. I don’t think we could have gotten into a shootout with them. We had to score when we had the chance.”
The Warriors’ AJ Pykosz was outstanding on the defensive front and was virtually unblockable.
“This is two great performances in a row and I think that’s what made our defense great today,” Cunningham said.
Isaacson and John Schneider, a defensive tackle who clogged the middle, were the keys to stopping Wilton’s running game.
“Our backers are tremendous and this is a game where John Schneider, with his physical prowess and what he brings to a football team, is a perfect match for this,” Callahan said. “Really play physical and fill up the A gaps so the linebackers can run to the ball. This was his game to play, where he showed his skills.”
By the end of a hot day, the Tigers agreed they had a perfect rebound performance as they get ready for a run at a return to the state tournament.
“It definitely hurt,” Isaacson said of the loss to the Cadets. “That one stung pretty bad, especially over the weekend. We really took our anger out in practice and there was no better team than Wilton to have. I think we definitely played angry today, we played physical and to be able to beat them and keep the streak going feels great.”