As time ticked down on the scoreboard at Alumni Field, the Cheshire High School football team could feel momentum starting to turn against them on Thursday night. In their home opener, the Rams tied Shelton, 14-14, at the end of the third quarter, but the Gaels had started the final frame with a 19-play drive inside the 10-yard line.
Senior linebacker Adam Vernon sensed that the game was hanging in the balance and saved his best play for last. On second down, Vernon made a tackle at the line of scrimmage and then on the next play, he made a diving interception at the 8-yard line with 5:30 remaining.
“We obviously needed to get off the field (on defense),” reflected Vernon. “They came out in a formation that we hadn’t seen much on film, but when I saw them line up, I knew where the ball was going to go and made a play on it.”
Vernon wasn’t done, as he returned to clinch the victory in overtime. After senior Matt Jeffery ran for his third touchdown (5 yards) to put the Rams up 21-14 in the extra session, the defensive unit forced Shelton into a fourth down and Vernon dove again to break up the final pass on the sideline.
“We had to stop them,” said Vernon. “I saw their receiver go into the route and was able to tip the ball away. I was happy to make the play for the team.”
The Rams student section stormed the field to celebrate the victory that extended their team’s record to 2-0 this fall. Shelton dropped to 1-1.
“They have an amazing football team,” said Cheshire Head Coach Don Drust. “They are well-coached and compete for four quarters. I’m proud of our guys for competing the way they did tonight.”
“We hung in there,” said lineman Evan Russo, a senior co-captain with Jeffery. “This is a great win for us.”
After Vernon’s interception in the fourth quarter, CHS actually had an opportunity to win the game in regulation. Junior quarterback Aniston Marsh and Jeffery led a nine-play drive to the Shelton 22-yard line.
With 14 seconds left, CHS opted to attempt a 37-yard field goal, but Jeffery’s boot came up short and the teams went into the extra session.
“I was motivated after that (kick),” recalled Jeffery. “I was ready to get back out there.”
For overtime in Connecticut high school football, both teams get a possession starting at their 10-yard line. In taking the ball first on Friday, Cheshire benefited from an offsides penalty against the Gaels.
On the ensuing run play, senior Jeffery Gonzalez helped push Jeffery into the end zone for his eventual-winning 5-yard touchdown. After getting in the end zone, Jeffery kicked his third extra point of the game.
“I can’t say enough about our guys,” said Jeffery. “We’ve been in overtimes in youth (football), so we were ready for that.”
Thursday’s contest was tight from start to finish. On the opening drive, the Rams got the home crowd buzzing with a 46-yard pass to the 22-yard line.
Marsh, Gonzalez, and Jeffery made consecutive hand-offs on the play. After Jeffery lateraled the ball back to Marsh, he found senior Lucas Chymbor wide open down the middle of the field.
“You start the game with a play like that and it gives you a lot of momentum,” explained Drust.
Cheshire faced a fourth down at the 13-yard line, but Marsh hit sophomore Liam Suomala with a 11-yard pass for a first down. On the next play, Jeffery ran for a 2-yard touchdown to put the Rams ahead with 8:16 left in the first quarter.
The Gaels responded on their first possession. Just like CHS, Shelton converted on a fourth down. This time, senior quarterback Mike Kinik lofted a 22-yard pass to senior Kanye Tinney for a first down.
Seconds later, Shelton tied the game with a 2-yard touchdown blast from senior David Dojlidko with 5:27 remaining in the opening quarter.
The rivals continued to move the ball in the rest of the first half, but due to stout defense and penalties on both sides, neither team was able to score again before halftime.
“We need to clean some stuff up,” said Drust, of the penalties. “We’ll look at it and work on things.”
Shelton finally broke the tie with 6:38 left in the third quarter. After the Rams were penalized for targeting on a run by Dojlidko, the Gaels capitalized with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Kinik to senior Ty Wood.
In need of a spark, Chymbor stepped up for the Rams. Late in the third, the senior made a diving catch for a 17-yard gain to the Shelton 43-yard line.
“I knew that we needed to make a play,” recalled Chymbor. “I saw the ball and went after it. It was great to come down with that (catch).”
Three plays later, Cheshire found the end zone again. In taking a shotgun snap, Jeffery faked a hand-off to Gonzalez and then cut through the Gaels defense for a 20-yard touchdown scamper with 28 seconds remaining in the third.
“Matt is a special player and person,” said Drust. “I’m fortunate to get to coach him.”
To start the fourth quarter, Shelton threatened to break the tie on their 19-yard drive. The Gaels converted on a pair of fourth-down situations, the latter of which came on a personal-foul penalty, but Vernon’s interception halted their momentum inside the 10-yard line.
“I’m very proud of him. I’m proud of the player and person he is,” said Drust, of Vernon. “You are talking about a senior stepping up when we needed him. He loves being out there with these guys."
After pulling out the win in overtime, the Rams feel that they have momentum going into next Friday’s game against Glastonbury (1-1) at 7 p.m.
“We have a special team,” said Vernon. “We are ready to get back on the field.”