Prep-West Haven Part I

The four-year march back toward respectability has almost reached its apex for the Fairfield Prep football team.
Winless in 2009, the Jesuits used the elusive running of junior quarterback Colton Smith (294 yards, 32 carries), the bruising inside rushing of senior Nick Crowle (104 yards, 19 attempts, three touchdowns) and a rock-solid defense anchored by interior lineman Tony Fox to shut down West Haven, 29-20, on Thanksgiving morning at Alumni Field before a crowd estimated at close to 3,000.
The win was Prep’s fifth in a row and ninth overall during the 2013 season, and, more importantly, it earned the Jesuits a trip to the Class LL playoffs, where, as the seventh-seeded team, they took on and defeated No. 2 Glastonbury 33-23.
With the victory, Prep will play West Haven again, as the No. 5 Westies defeated No. 3 Hall of West Hartford 51-26. The SCC rivals will meet at 2 p.m. Saturday at Trumbull High.
“This has been four years in the making,” said a jubilant Fox, who plays both ways. “It’s been a four-year process for the seniors. We’ve worked at this day-by-day. Our message has always remained the same. And that was to go out and do your job.”
The Jesuits, down 20-10 at halftime and trailing at one time, 20-2, totally stymied West Haven (9-2) in the second half as their ground attack, led by Smith and Crowle, gained control.
“This simply shows you how good our defense is,” said head coach Tom Shea, the architect who has led Prep back as the team will be making its first post-season appearance since 2006.
“I believe our front seven is the best in the state,” Shea said. The Jesuits gave up the fewest number of points (206) in the very competitive Southern Connecticut Conference.
It didn’t start on a positive note for Prep, however.
Taking the opening kick-off, West Haven, winners of nine straight since an opening-week 22-21 loss to Greenwich, marched right down the field.
Led by leading runner, Ervin Phillips, a Syracuse-bound performer with speed and the ability to break tackles, and senior quarterback Duane Gary, who adds another threat for the team, the Westies went 54 yards in five plays with Phillips scoring from a yard out. It was 8-0 after the two-point conversion.
On its first series, Prep drove all the way to the West Haven three-yard line. When a fourth-down pass by Smith fell short, the Westies took over. In a precursor of what was to come, Prep’s defense (on twin tackles by Steve Walsh and Brett Stevenson) pinned Gary in the end zone for a safety.
Prep now trailed, 8-2.
West Haven was able to widen its lead to 14-2 at 10:06 of the second quarter as Gary found Phillips in the clear down the left sideline for a 47-yard scoring play. Tayvon Gibbs’ conversion kick, however, went wide to the left.
A turnover on its next series put Prep in bad field position gave the Westies a short field and Gary scored on a one-yard run for a 20-2 lead with 7:57 left.
Prep finally got its offense going on the next series.
Smith found daylight twice, gaining five and nine yards to get it started. Together Smith and Crowle then combined for 22 yards. The end result was a first down at the West Haven 32. In between, the Westies were flagged for a 15-yard penalty.
After Smith picked up five to the 27, he broke through the middle, spun away from two defenders and went the distance, cutting West Haven’s lead to 20-8.
Prep chose to go for two and Smith connected with Andrew Ostrosky in the back of the end zone. Prep now trailed, 20-10.
After West Haven worked its way all the way down to the Prep 7 on its following drive, the Jesuits’ defense made a big stand. On a fourth-and-goal from the three, Gary was stopped one yard short of the goal-line and dragged down by Max Trudeau.
It proved to be the impetus that Prep needed heading into the second half.
“They took charge of this game in the second half,” said West Haven coach Ed McCarthy, who, earlier in the season, became the state’s all-time winning coach. “Their offensive line was outstanding. They deserved to win this game.”
Getting the ball to start the second half, Prep, winners of its last five and nine out of 11, crept even closer.
Crowle finished off a seven-play drive which covered 66 yards when he burst through the center of his line (made up of Fox, Steve Komutik, Anthony Palazzolo, Michael Ruther and Brendan Sullivan) and covered 14 yards to score at 8:18. During the series, Smith ripped off runs of 14 and 20 yards.
The Jesuits tied up Phillips, who came into the game averaging 135 yards per contest and was held to 72 (on 16 tries), and forced a four-and-out situation.
Prep took over on its own 17. Once again, Smith was the protagonist for West Haven. He had runs of 12 and 19 yards as the Prep offense, which wound up with 482 yards (451 running and 25 first downs), ate up huge amounts of time.
A 31-yard run by Crowle with 4:31 left in the third gave Prep its first lead at 22-20.
Prep’s final score, a three-yard run by Crowle with only 2:41 remaining, put the game out of reach for West Haven.
Prep’s defense limited West Haven to 146 yards rushing on 39 attempts, while giving up 100 yards in passing yardage.

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