BRIDGEPORT -- With a disappointing loss to Trumbull already in the books, Central football coach Dave Cadelina spent the past week urging his players to "take back our dreams" as they prepared for FCIAC powerhouse Greenwich, knowing another loss would probably mean the end of their postseason hopes.
With the odds stacked squarely against them, the Hilltoppers delivered a total-team, season-saving effort that brought a veteran coaching staff to tears.
Christon Gill threw a first-half touchdown pass and ran for a second score in the third quarter and Central hung on for a thrilling 14-13 upset of the Cardinals Friday night at Kennedy Stadium.
"I expect our kids to be able to play at this level, but to beat Greenwich is something special," Cadelina said. "This win revives us for 2009."
"They outplayed us, especially up front," Greenwich coach Rich Albonizio said. "We didn't have a good week of practice, but the better team won, no doubt. They kicked our butts tonight."
Gill then put the Hilltoppers on his shoulders, leading them on a 10-play, 76-yard scoring drive, all on the ground. Shabashe McIntosh, Lucas DeSouza and Dominick Luckey added important runs on the series, but Gill's were the biggest.
The senior signal-caller carried four times for 42 yards and finished things off with a slashing 11-yard run into the end zone. He bulled his way in for the two-point conversion and a 14-7 lead with 2:46 left in the third quarter.
Greenwich responded with the kind of drive that would have made past Central teams fold its cards.
After the Hilltoppers appeared to stop the Cardinals short on a third-down pass at their 40-yard line, they were hit with two personal fouls (horse-collar tackle and unsportsmanlike conduct), giving Greenwich a first down at the Central 14 as the third quarter ended.
It took three plays for Greenwich to earn a first-and-goal at the one, where Gill would make another gigantic play.
Jumping to meet Lefflbine inches before the goal line, Gill jarred the ball loose and it was recovered by teammate Isaiah Flores in the end zone for a touchback.
"I saw he was going to jump," Gill said. "So I jumped with him and was able to knock it loose."
Central went three-and-out and punted with 8:46 left and Lefflbine (10 for 17, 137 yards, 10 carries for 77 yards) went back to work.
Combining runs with short passes, the Cardinals went 79 yards on 10 plays and closed the gap to 14-13 on a one-yard run by Michael Dunster with 3:06 left in the game.
The extra point proved to be Greenwich's undoing, however, as a shaky snap seemed to throw off kicker Oliver Ostrowski's timing and he pulled the kick wide left.
The Cardinals would try an onside kick, but Central's Frederick Tucker would win a fierce battle for the ball with 3:04 left.
The Hilltoppers would manage two first downs on huge runs by Luckey and McIntosh and were able to run out the clock, touching off a very emotional celebration.
For Cadelina, in his 14th year at Central, his first win over Greenwich gives new life to a season that was in trouble after a 21-0 loss to Trumbull two weeks ago.
"On the sideline, coaches who have been with me for 13 years were all in tears," Cadelina said. "We just wanted to get them once before we retired and now we got it and we have to see if we can keep it going."
GREENWICH 0 7 0 6--13
CENTRAL 6 0 8 0--14
C--Lucas DeSouza 27 pass Christon Gill (run failed)
G--Michael Lefflbine 7 run (Oliver Ostrowski kick)
C--Gill 11 run (Gill run)
G--Michael Dunster 1 run (kick failed)
Records: Central 5-1, Greenwich 5-1.