Ridgefield football team rallies to top Wilton (updated)

Two second-half touchdowns, one each in the third and fourth quarters, lifted the Ridgefield football team to a 21-13 victory over Wilton last Friday night at Tom Fujitani Field. It was Senior Night, the last time this crop of Wilton seniors would play on their home turf. And at halftime, a 13-7 Wilton lead buoyed growing optimism that a 20-year winless drought against Ridgefield would end; that victory would silence the howling Tiger hordes from the north.

“I hurt for them right now,” a visibly moved Wilton head coach Bruce Cunningham said of his team right after the game. “We've fought like that all year long. We just couldn't seem to make a play when we had to — dropped balls here and there, missed blocks. And in the second half, there was not enough consistency in our running game. I thought the overall performance of our defense was outstanding.”

Wilton (3-7) received the opening kick-off, and a 37-yard return by Rod-Djoly Thorby gave the Warriors great field position at their own 44. But a three-and-out put Ridgefield at its own 17. What followed was a 13-play drive, good for 76 yards, featuring three pass completions by Ridgefield quarterback Ryan Dunn, 38 yards worth of rushing by Will Bonaparte, and no touchdown — no scoring at all.

That was because on third-and-one at the Wilton seven, Andrew “Ace” Sakamoto broke up a pass in the end zone, out-dueling the much-taller Ridgefield receiver Erik Weber. Then, on fourth and one, Peter Ciaccio stuffed Bonaparte for a four-yard loss, and the Warriors took over on downs at their 11.

But Wilton couldn't move the ball. Poor field position and a short punt put the Tigers only 28 yards away from the Wilton end zone, and this time the Warrior defense could not hold Ridgefield at bay. It took five plays, with Bonaparte, on a direct snap from center, barging in for the score from two yards out. Petros Papadopoulos' PAT made it 7-0 at 2:50 of the first quarter.

The touchdown appeared to jar the Warrior offense into action. Wilton responded with a 67-yard drive in nine plays, resulting in a touchdown. It began at the Warrior 37, with an 11-yard pass completion from Brett Phillips to Carter Vail. After that, seven straight carries by Phillips, good for 43 yards, got the ball to the Ridgefield eight. From there it was John D'Elisa right up the middle for the touchdown, as the Wilton interior line surged forward, knocking Tiger defenders on their heels, sprawling them backwards into the end zone. A missed extra point left the Warriors trailing, 7-6, with 10:09 remaining in the second quarter.

Dan Holland's recovery of a Bonaparte fumble on Ridgefield's next series put Wilton in business at the Tiger 34. It was a welcome-back present for Holland, the senior captain, forced to the sidelines for the previous three weeks.

It took three plays for the Warriors to score, including a 28-yard reception by Dan Baird and then an eight-yard touchdown run by Phillips. EJ Sassani's extra point kick was good, and with 8:07 left in the half, Wilton led 13-7.

Both teams would have scoring chances from that point on. But Ridgefield missed a 32-yard field goal and, with a minute to go, Wilton could not take advantage of a first down at the Tiger 36.

Ridgefield (8-2) got the ball to start the second half, and it was clear that the visitors had made adjustments. Embarking on a 67-yard, nine-play drive, the Tigers parlayed a third-down, 16-yard scramble by Dunn and a pass interference call, on an apparent Wilton interception, into a score. Dunn registered the touchdown on a six-yard rollout that put Ridgefield ahead, 14-13, at 8:41 of the third quarter.

The Warriors rallied quickly, moving from their 29 to the Tiger 30 with a completion to Jack Dexter and a personal foul on the play accounting for 26 yards. But Phillips' fumble, recovered by Austin Drukker, foiled the drive. Though Ridgefield did not take advantage of the turnover immediately, it did check Wilton's momentum. At the end of the quarter, the Warriors found themselves deep in their own territory, unable to move the ball.

The fourth quarter opened with the Tigers taking possession at their 45. It took them six plays to travel the 55 yards needed for a touchdown, as Wilton's season-long nemesis, Lady Attrition, sashayed onto the field. On second down at the Warrior 24, Bonaparte disappeared into the line after a yard or two, but the weary defense yielded, as a pile of bodies just kept tumbling forward for another 10 yards. Dunn's one-yard toss to Andrew Chuma and a successful PAT made the score 21-13 with 9:36 left in the game.

By this time, hard hits were taking a toll on Phillips as well. Following the Ridgefield touchdown, Phillips was driving the team when he got rocked throwing the ball. Wilton recovered the resulting fumble, but it was clear the quarterback was shaken up, though he never came out of the game.

The Tigers forced a punt and, from their own 46, looked to be circling for the kill when Bonaparte reeled off a 14-yard run to the Warrior 40. But it was Thorby on the spot, coming up with an interception at the Wilton 20, and with 5:36 left the possibilities of a Warrior touchdown, two-point conversion and a tie ball game were very real.

An 11-yard pass completion to Baird plus a roughing-the-passer penalty advanced the ball to the Ridgefield 49. A fumble and sack on third down left Wilton with a fourth and 13 from its 48 with little choice but to go for it. The subsequent 12-yard reception by Baird was not enough, despite his struggle, to gain the extra yard. He was stopped short of the first down. “A game of inches,” is all Cunningham could say.

Wilton did get one more shot as it stopped the Tigers with less than two minutes remaining. Paul Sorbo's 20-yard catch and run moved the ball to the Warrior 36 and Phillips spiked the ball. Three incompletions later, Ridgefield had the ball with only four seconds left and needed only take a knee to end the game.

“There was a lot of emotion in the game,” said Holland. “We knew their runner (Bonaparte) was good, but we weren't going to give him his yardage free,” added Sakamoto.

Notes: Phillips rushed for 102 yards in the first half and minus-two yards in the second. Overall, the Warriors rushed for 130 yards and Phillips was eight-of-21 passing for 111 yards and no interceptions.

The Warriors will try to break a six-game losing skid when they face Trinity Catholic at 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day next Thursday (Nov. 28) at the Crusaders' Alumni Field in Stamford.