If Friday's football game between Fairfield Warde and Wilton had been a professional game, with three minutes left on the clock, the home crowd would be heading for their cars.

After all, Warde, the home team, trailing 21-7, had the ball on its own 1-yard line, and its offense had been struggling all night.

The early departers would have missed three minutes of courageous, inspired, explosive football that showed what this 3-2 Mustang team is capable of.

"We just all turned to each other and were saying, `It hasn't happened before and we have to make it happen now,'" said captain Neil Ehlers, a senior leader of the offensive line. "We thought that we could go down and score and with the time remaining, it was possible for us to tie it up and then win the game."

Ehlers' offensive line let senior quad-captain Mike Jacob crash off guard for five yards, giving Warde a little breathing room. Then they gave quarterback Will Halliday time to connect with Jon Bowers, and the sturdy tight end found running room, stepping out of bounds to stop the clock after a 51-yard gain.

A sack and a grounding "in the grasp" gave the Mustangs a third and 17 on their own 42.

"There might have been confusion before, but I think we now realized what we had to do," said Ehlers. "Just put in a full effort and buy him [Halliday] some time to throw the ball."

With every defender stymied, Halliday dropped back, stepped to his right, and hit Craig Lowery in stride. The swift junior reached Wilton's 22.

Halliday's final pass and Terrell Walden's touchdown reception closed the score to 21-13. After the extra point attempt flew wide, 27 seconds remained on the clock.

"It's not just about putting some more points on the board," said Warde head coach Duncan DellaVolpe. "With 27 seconds, if we recover an onside kick, we've got three shots at the endzone, so we're not quitting until it's just all zeros on the board."

But Wilton's Jeff Liebowitz smothered Mustang kicker Luke Allen's onside attempt. On the next play, Warrior quarterback Jackson Wilbur took a knee and the clock wound down to all zeros, sending the Warriors home with a 21-13 victory.

All night long, Wilton (1-4) had looked like anything but a winless FCIAC bottom dweller. Its first drive covered 61 yards, highlighted by a 44-yard reception by Matt Reyes-Guerradun (100-plus receiving yards and three touchdown receptions), who would plague the Mustangs all night. On that drive, only a heroic stand by the Warde defense after a first and goal at their nine-yard line and a missed field goal kept the Warriors off the scoreboard.

After Warde's 46-yard advance (featuring Jacob's 30-yard ramble) stalled on the Wilton 34, the Warriors marched 66 yards to a 7-0 lead. Their clock-eating 14-play drive to that first touchdown ended 11 seconds into the second quarter. They had amassed 18 first-quarter plays from scrimmage to Warde's six.

"Unfortunately, offensively we're getting the ball down the field and then we're stopping ourselves too many times," said DellaVolpe. "This wasn't a game of breaks tonight. This was Wilton executing the way we wanted to execute tonight."

The Warriors had executed their way to a 14-0 with an 80-yard second-quarter drive before the Mustangs got on the scoreboard with a 12-play, 72-yard scoring drive. Hard-nosed running by Tommy McNamara and a 19-yard dash by Alex Delaney highlighted that drive, which ended with Bowers' diving touchdown catch in Wilton's endzone.

The Mustangs received the second-half kickoff. A 20-yard advance ended in a punt from the Wilton 45 and the Warriors moved 80 yards in 10 plays to a 21-7 lead. The Mustang offense managed a total of 31 yards in three brief second-half possessions before their final scoring drive.

"We're better right now than what we've shown for the last two weeks," said a steely-eyed DellaVolpe, "and we're going to get back to work starting tomorrow to straighten that out."

"We didn't really feel like Wilton should have beat us," concluded Ehlers. "It's going to get everyone more focused and determined and just really hungry to win again and beat Trinity at our Homecoming game [Friday at 7 p.m.]."