Football: Warriors fall in defensive battle with Tigers

In an emotional game for the Wilton High football team and head coach Bruce Cunningham, the Warriors played their best defensive game of the season on Saturday at Ridgefield.

Unfortunately, Ridgefield’s defense was even more dominant, limiting Wilton to just a single field goal in a 17-3 victory.

The Tigers improved to 4-2 while the Warriors fell to 3-3.

“We left some opportunities on the field. Every time we thought we got the ball going pretty good, (Ridgefield) made a big play. That’s a credit to them,” said Cunningham. “Our own mistakes and penalties hurt us, especially right before the half. That changes the complexion of the game a little bit.”

Cunningham, whose father, Bruce Cunningham Sr., had passed away earlier in the week, said he was proud of how the Warriors played given the circumstances.

“It was an emotional week. I told them I didn’t want them to carry any burden with my situation this week,” he said.

“That’s the way this game’s supposed to be played," he continued. "It’s supposed to be hard-hitting, it’s supposed to be that way. It was two teams that played their hearts out."

The high-powered Tigers, who were averaging 33 points per game, scored two touchdowns in the first half to take a 14-0 halftime lead.

The first TD came on a four-yard pass from Greg Gatto to Luke Gaydos with 2:06 left in the first quarter, capping off a 50-yard drive.

The Warriors answered by marching 36 yards to the Ridgefield 33-yard line, highlighted by runs of 13 and 10 yards by Harvey Alexander. A fumble ended the drive, with the Tigers recovering at their own 26 with 2:30 left in the first half.

Gatto then led the Tigers down the field with his passing, before scoring on a 10-yard run to make it 14-0 with 51 seconds to go in the half.

Kyle Phillips returned the ensuing kickoff 35 yards to the Wilton 40, and a 32-yard pass from Brian Calabrese to Drew Phillips had the ball on the Ridgefield 10 with four seconds left. But after a false start moved the ball back to the 15, a pass was broken up in the end zone on the final play of the half, sending Wilton into the half down 14-0.

The Warriors got the ball in great field position early in the second half, after Kyle Shifrin went high to make an interception, giving Wilton the ball at the Ridgefield 35. The Warriors couldn't take advatnage and had to settle for Will Sullivan’s 37-yard field goal, making it 14-3 with 8:35 left in the third quarter.

The defense again came up big on the next Tiger possession, with Jack DiNanno and AJ Pykosz combining for a sack on third down at the Ridgefield 16. A short punt gave Wilton excellent field position at the Ridgefield 31, but the Tigers pushed the Warriors back and Sullivan’s 54-yard field goal attempt was no good.

It was the fourth Wilton possession in a row to at least the Ridgefield 31-yard line, with only three points to show for it.

The Warriors moved the ball 35 yards to the Ridgefield 25 in the fourth quarter, highlighted by a 15-yard run by Calabrese and a pass interference ball. The drive again stalled and Sullivan’s field-goal attempt, this time from 47 yards, came up just short.

Ridgefield ended the scoring with a 24-yard field goal by Harry Woodger in the final minutes.

Pykosz had a tremendous game at defensive end for Wilton. He was part of 12 tackles (nine solo tackles), with five tackles for losses behind the line, including 1.5 sacks.

Drew Herlyn and Shifrin were both in on seven tackles, while Alexander was in on six tackles, including a sack. Kyle Phillips was in on five tackles and DiNanno and Andrew Luciaco each were in on four tackles.

Calabrese completed five of 19 passes for 95 yards, and ran for 15 yards on 10 carries. Alexander carried the ball 17 times for 55 yards, while Herlyn had 15 yards on four carries.

Drew Phillips had one carry for eight yards and one catch for 32 yards. Robbie Hermann had four catches for 63 yards.

Notes: The win extended Ridgefield’s unbeaten streak against the Warriors to 24 years. The Tigers are 19-0-1 against Wilton in the past 20 games going back to 1993.

The Warriors will be back home on Saturday when they host Stamford (2-4) at 1:30.