Shelton overwhelms Derby

Photo of Brian Koonz

SHELTON — Shelton’s Joe Zoppi posed for picture after picture Thursday at Finn Stadium.

He stood between his folks and clutched a trophy as the best player on Thanksgiving in an enduring Valley rivalry. He stood next to his buddies, the ones wearing smeared eye black just like him, and grinned the way we all should.

At least once.

Finally, with his photo shoot nearing an end, Zoppi pretended to line up for his next field goal, the one that will send a football into posterity.

Zoppi, a senior and the newest owner of the Silver Turkey Award, kicked three field goals in Shelton’s 44-8 win over Derby to tie the state record with 20 career field goals.

Add five extra points — and two touchdown catches from David Wells — and Zoppi found a way to make this game his own, even though he will tell you it belonged to every player in a black-and-orange jersey.

Shelton clinched a spot in the Class LL state playoffs with the victory, its 14th straight over Derby in this fabled 106-game series. The Gaels will visit Newtown on Tuesday.

“I always picture myself getting a field goal, whether it’s one a game, two a game, three a game, maybe a game-winner,” said Zoppi, who hit a pair of 30-yard field goals and kicked another from 32 yards out. “I’m always prepared for it. I’ve been doing it since sixth grade and I started (for Shelton High) my freshman year.”

The Gaels (8-2) didn’t waste any time taking control of this game.

Shelton scored on its opening possession after Ronnie Rich capped a four-play, 59-yard drive with a 9-yard touchdown run. From there, the Gaels scored on every drive but one in the first half to build a 41-0 lead.

So Shelton coach Jeff Roy pulled his starters at halftime and looked to the future.

“We obviously wanted to get the victory, and come out and play well in that first half so we could get the kids out of there and be healthy for states,” Roy said.

Derby (2-8) scored on its first drive of the second half after Alijah Elis swept right and raced 70 yards up the sideline for a touchdown. Tom Abel ran in the two-point conversion to cut Shelton’s lead to 41-8.

Zoppi kicked one of his 30-yard field goals with 5:30 left in the third quarter to close out the scoring and earn his share of the state’s career field goal record. Pete Swindell of New Canaan and Dane Borges of Brookfield also have 20.

And yet, for Red Raiders coach George French, the rivalry and the tradition here are bigger than any giant scoreboard in the end zone.

“I’m a Derby guy,” French said. “We’re a very young team, but I love this game and everything that goes with it — the bonfires, the Rotary Club lunches, all of it. ... They’re a very good football team. Our goal is to get better so we can try to beat them.”

After the game, Roy took his place before the assembled Gaels — some standing, others taking a knee — and spoke of the opportunity that lies ahead.

“We know we can beat anybody in the state,” Roy said, nodding several times for emphasis.

If Thanksgiving is any indication, Joe Zoppi knows it, too.;


DERBY 0 0 8 0—8

SHELTON 24 17 3 0—44

S — Ronnie Rich 9 run (Joe Zoppi kick)

S — Zoppi 30 FG

S — Santino Durante 7 blocked punt return (Zoppi kick)

S — Zoppi 13 pass David Wells (Zoppi kick)

S — Zoppi 56 pass Wells (Zoppi kick)

S — Rich 12 run (Zoppi kick)

S — Zoppi 32 FG

D — Alijah Ellis 70 run (Tom Abel run)

S — Zoppi 30 FG

Records: Shelton 8-2; Derby 2-8.