WILTON, Conn. The Wilton third-grade White football team avenged its lone loss of the regular season, stunning New Canaan Black in a storybook come-from-behind finish in the semifinal game of the Fairfield County Football League playoffs. The victory sealed a co-championship for the Wilton White third-graders.
Wiltons Blue team also won its semifinal game earlier that day. Under league tradition, two finalists from the same town share the title.
All season, Wilton Whites defense has been among the best in the league. But early in the game, New Canaan Blacks disciplined and physical offense caught Wilton by surprise. On the third play of the game, a reverse got outside the defense and had the young Warriors down, 7-0. It got worse for the home team as the offense fumbled on its first snap of the game. Though Wiltons defense settled in and stopped the run better in its second time on the field, New Canaans offense proved to be multidimensional. A beautiful pass play went for another touchdown with 1:37 left in the first quarter, Wilton was down, 13-0.
After another fumble by Wiltons offense, the defense forced a New Canaan mistake and linebacker Quinn Wiseman pounced on the ball (This and the following videolinks were produced by Austin Andersen). At the beginning of the second quarter, Wilton running back Blake Pagano-Walley found daylight behind the solid offensive line of Charlie Hastings, Jason Bivona, Austin Cameron, Joshua White, Matt Gulbin, Henry Sell and Michael Coffey, and ran 45 yards for a touchdown to make it 13-6 (videolink).
Wiltons defense stiffened after that score, realizing they were right back in this game. Standout play by Henry Sell and Austin Cameron along the defensive line kept New Canaans running attack at bay (videolink). Close coverage by cornerbacks Spencer Dean, Connor Healey, Logan Brady and Luke ONeill, as well as by safety Michael Gruseke, kept the NC Black passing attack in check.
In the second half, Wiltons offense moved the ball well on the ground. Running backs Sean Sullivan, Pagano-Walley, wing back Alex Smith, along with quarterback Everett Andersen, found seams created by offensive linemates Daniel Gruseke, Jake Eagen and Jack Fielden. Unfortunately, the offense fumbled three more times before the end of the game. But the storyline truly started with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, with Wiltons offense facing a third-and-10. Dropping back to pass under tremendous pressure, Andersen pitched a perfect spiral to end Joshua White, who wrestled the ball away from the New Canaan defender for a first down (videolink). The young Warriors saw the turning point and tapped into the electric energy of the crowd for a final push.
With only 3:23 left to play, and the Warriors still trailing by seven points, the defense atoned for its earlier lapses. A sack by linebacker Davis Cote on first down stunned the New Canaan quarterback. On second down, defensive guard Michael Coffey pushed through the line to take the running back down for a loss. And on third down, defensive tackle Matt Gulbin overpowered his man and stuffed the runner at the line of scrimmage. New Canaan elected to punt, pinning Wilton in its own territory with 1:33 remaining.
Running back Blake Pagano-Walley, who had taken the lions share of running responsibility, took a pitch left and found daylight after a punishing lead block by his backfield mate Sean Sullivan. About 55 yards later, the crowd, the cheerleaders and both teams were stunned to find the score 13-12 (videolink). With 43 seconds left, Wiltons coaching staff made the call to go for broke on a two-point conversion. Going with what worked before, Pagano-Walley swept left and powered into the corner of the end zone by the narrowest of margins to give Wilton its first lead of the game, 14-13 (videolink).
In a fitting ending to the season for Wilton White, its defense was on the field to ensure the win. Four straight pass attempts failed for New Canaan, with the fourth down attempt ending with a ferocious sack by Matt Gulbin and Davis Cote (videolink).
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