In a game loaded with big plays, momentum shifts and a lot of twists and turns, eighth-seeded Ridgefield pulled out a dramatic 35-33 win over top-seeded host Newtown Tuesday night in the quarterfinal round of the Class LL Tournament. The Tigers (10-2) advanced to Saturday’s semifinals, where they will face No. 4 Southington at West Haven.
Holding leads of 28-7 and 35-13, while effectively running the ball and controlling the clock, Ridgefield seemed primed to convincingly waltz into the tournament’s semifinals. But the Nighthawks (12-1) had other plans. Newtown got on track offensively, due in large part to its passing game, closing within 35-33 with 16 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Here’s a look at what transpired.
TWO POINT CONVERSION ATTEMPT: After Cooper Gold made it a 35-33 game, scoring on a 2-yard run for the Nighthawks, quarterback Andrew Tarantino’s conversion pass fell incomplete and Ridgefield held off Newtown for the win. Heavily pressured, Tarantino was flushed out of the pocket and was forced to rush his pass.
BONAPARTE’S BIG GAME: Senior running back Will Bonaparte carried the load to say the least for the Tigers. The bruising running back gained an impressive 226 yards on 36 carries, reaching the end zone on runs of 63, 4 and 1 yards. During the Tigers’ third scoring drive he carried the ball on 10 of 15 plays, his last attempt resulting in a 4-yard touchdown. Powered by center Samuel Hemley, the offensive line did a great job all night for the Tigers.
“You could have driven a truck through some of the holes the offensive line opened up for me,” Bonaparte said. “They deserve a lot of credit.”
DUNN GETS IT DONE: Ridgefield also had success moving the ball through the air behind quarterback Ryan Dunn. The junior completed 20 of 31 passes for 268 yards and one touchdown – an 18-yard pass in the back of the end zone to wide receiver Chris Rossini. Senior wideout Andrew Chuma keyed a scoring drive with a 56-yard reception, junior Alex Shilstone moved the first down chains with a clutch 26-yard pass in the second half and Rossini caught a 44-yarder from Dunn in the first half.
NIGHTHAWKS FIND THEIR NICHE IN SECOND HALF: Struggling to run the ball in the first half, Newtown looked to their passing game the majority of the second half. Tarantino completed 22 of 48 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns. Junior wide receiver Julian Dunn was a threat throughout, catching a scoring strike over a defender from 13 yards out in the second half. Junior Troy Frangione also had a touchdown reception for the Nighthawks, who went deep into its playbook in the second half.
Facing a fourth down on the Ridgefield 11-yard line, Newtown used some trickery to cut the Tigers’ lead to 35-27. Receiving a pitch from running back Gold, Julian Dunn threw a touchdown pass to Tarantino, who was split out on the play.