After the horn sounded to signal halftime last Friday, the Cheshire High School football team had a positive feeling leaving Shelton’s Edward C. Finn Stadium for the locker room. While being held scoreless in the first two quarters, the Rams had held their own against a favored Gaels team and only trailed 7-0.
After having a break to get refreshed, Cheshire returned to rally for one of the program’s biggest wins in recent years. The Rams (3-1) didn’t give up a touchdown in the second half, outscoring the Gaels (3-1) 24-5 to earn a 24-12 victory.
For Shelton, the loss ended an unbeaten start and 22-game home regular-season win streak.
“They have a good football team over there, but we told our kids that, when you play really hard for 48 minutes, good things can happen,” said Head Coach Don Drust. “We are proud of the guys for how they competed tonight.”
Senior Alec Frione ignited Cheshire’s comeback. On the opening drive of the third, he caught a pass from senior quarterback/co-captain Jason Shumilla and ran for a 20-yard touchdown to tie the game with 7:32 remaining in the quarter.
“I have to credit the (offensive) line for blocking and Shumilla for throwing me a perfect ball,” explained Frione.
Just a minute and one second later, Frione found the end zone again. This time, he made an interception and ran 20 yards for the touchdown to put the Rams ahead 14-7.
“It was definitely a great feeling,” reflected Frione. “The guys up front created pressure so that I could make that play.”
Shelton cut the deficit to 14-10 on a 26-yard field goal by sophomore Cristiano Rosa with 44 seconds left in the third, but senior Jake McAlinden returned the ensuing kick-off to the 12-yard line. Frione made a 9-yard catch and then senior Colby Griffin ran for a 3-yard touchdown just 49 seconds into the fourth quarter.
Leading 21-10, the Rams pushed Shelton into a fourth down and the special teams unit came up with a key play. Breaking through the line, junior Cole Feinauer blocked a punt and senior lineman Sean Cangiano picked the ball up and rumbled down to the Shelton 21-yard line.
“I've never been so pumped up,” said Feinauer, of his block. “It was such a rush.”
Cangiano relished his chance to run the ball.
“I saw it (the ball) come to me in slow motion,” stated Cangiano. “After I got it, I just started running. It was awesome.”
“Big guys don't get to run with the ball often,” said Drust. “I can't wait to see that play on film.”
The Gaels forced a fourth down on the next drive, but Cheshire still extended the lead to 24-10 on a career-long 44-yard field goal by junior Jotham Casey with 8:18 remaining.
“They (the coaches) were debating whether to kick it or go for it (the first down). They came to me and asked if I could do it (make the field goal),” explained Casey. "I believed that I could make that kick. It felt great to come through for the team.”
Shelton tried to stage a rally, but Cheshire twice stopped them on fourth down to take possession.
Leading by 14 points, CHS opted not to punt in the final minute and, instead, Shumilla took an intentional safety with 35 seconds left. While the safety cut Cheshire’s lead to 24-12, the Rams held their rival scoreless on the next drive to end the game.
“This is the biggest win we've had since I've been here,” stated Frione. “You play for games like this.”
Playing at home, Shelton did enjoy a fast start on the game’s opening drive. Senior quarterback James Curley passed to senior Chris Thompson for 52 yards and then Curley found junior Gavin Rohlman for an 8-yard touchdown (7-0) with 9:38 remaining in the first quarter.
While their offense was bottled up early, the Rams defense kept Shelton from pulling away. At the start of the second quarter, the Gaels earned a first down at the CHS 11-yard line, but Cheshire pushed them back and Rosa missed a 38-yard field goal.
Cheshire threatened offensively at the end of the second. Shumilla threw to junior Nick DiDomizio for 11 yards to the Shelton 19-yard line, but a high snap led to the Rams losing 17 yards on the next play.
Shumilla came back with a 24-yard run to the 12-yard line, but Shelton senior Jake Oddo made an interception with 24 seconds left and the Gaels took a knee to end the second quarter.
In returning to control the second half, CHS used their speed and aggressiveness to counter a size disparity. The offensive line of senior co-captain Will Bergin, Cangiano, juniors Dan Bourdeau, Colin Crowe, and Chisom Okoro kept pressure off Shumilla.
“We outplayed them. We went all out for 48 minutes and wanted it (the win) more,” said Cangiano.
Feinauer had a career-best performance on the defensive line.
“I’m happy for the kid because he worked really hard in practice,” said Drust.
The Rams are currently practicing in their bye week before returning home to play Masuk (3-1) on Oct. 18 at 7 p.m.