Jesuits take the next step forward

A 25-year wait is over for the Fairfield Prep football team.
The Jesuits put together another impressive second-half performance on Saturday at Trumbull’s McDougall Stadium, rallying to defeat West Haven, 29-28, earning the team its first trip to the Class LL state championship game since 1988.
It was the second victory for Prep over the Blue Devils in nine days. Trailing 20-2 at one point on Thanksgiving morning, the Jesuits came back to defeat West Haven, 29-20, snapping the Westies’ nine-game win streak.
Trailing 19-9 early in the third quarter of its semifinal, Prep got back in the game behind the power running of senior fullback Nick Crowle; a stout defense which bent at times but never broke, and the special teams where John DelliSanti returned a punt 65 yards for a score with 2:35 to go in the third quarter.
It gave the Jesuits, the No. 7 seed, a 22-19 lead over the No. 6 Westies.
“All along I thought the road to the championship game for us, if we managed to get this far, would go through West Haven,” said Fairfield Prep coach Tom Shea, who took over the team in 2010 after the Jesuits had gone winless in 2009. “I never thought, though, that we’d have to play them twice in nine days.”
Prep (11-2) will take on No. 4 Southington (11-1), who blanked No. 8 Ridgefield, 45-0 in its semi, at Central Connecticut State University’s Arute Field on Saturday at 6:05 p.m.
It was Prep’s defense, led by linebackers Maxwell Trudeau and Crowle, who put up the final stand when the Westies were driving for what could’ve been a go-ahead touchdown in the game’s final minutes.
After Prep took a 29-26 lead on Crowle’s 28-yard run with 3:53 to play and Henry Healy’s conversion kick, West Haven got a 16-yard kickoff return from Zatrell Lyons and a first down on its own 42.
The Jesuits did a good job of stopping Ervin Phillips, holding him to three yards on the first play.
But senior quarterback Duane Gary, a thorn all day in Prep’s side, broke off a 21-yard run giving the Westies a first-down on the Jesuits’ 34-yard line.
Phillips picked up nine yards on two carries, before Marshont Little snapped off a two-yarder, bringing the ball to the 23 and giving West Haven yet another first down.
Once again, Prep’s defense, with Trudeau making the stop, backed Phillips up two yards.
On a second-and-12 from the 25 with 1:12 left, Gary dropped back and spotted Lyons, his favorite target, open near the left sideline. His pass, however, came up short and was picked off by sophomore Brendan Beiser, a little-used defensive back.
Prep got the ball on the eight-yard line with 1:06 showing. The Jesuits ran three plays and were faced with a fourth down.
Prep quarterback Colton Smith ran the clock out by going into and out of the end zone, as time ran out to award West Haven the damage-control two-point safety.
“This was a great game, a true heavyweight contest,” said West Haven coach Ed McCarthy. “Unfortunately for us, we ran out of big plays and that final pass was underthrown. The receiver was open, too.”
West Haven, which saw its season end with a 10-3 record — it’s only other loss coming 22-21 to Greenwich in its opener — scored first when Gary hooked up with Lyons on a pass play covering 29 yards.
It came at 9:18 of the second quarter, as the teams battled to a scoreless tie after one period. The Westies’ went for one with Tayvon Gibbs making it a 7-0 game.
A safety charged against West Haven when Gary was dropped in the end zone by Trudeau narrowed the Westies’ margin to 7-2.
Prep took what would be the first of three leads following the kickoff when the Jesuits ran off 10 plays, the last a nine-yard carry by Smith for the score. Healy’s extra-point boot made it 9-7.
The Westies were undeterred, however, and scored when Gary broke through the middle, got the jump and outran four defenders in racing 65 yards for another six-pointer with 17 seconds left. It allowed West Haven to take a 13-9 halftime lead.
The tally went to 19-9 when Phillips took a handoff on the second play of the second half and also went 65 yards to score at 11:03.
Prep had some tricks of its own for the second half. Putting together their longest drive, the Jesuits went 63 yards on 13 tries after Joe Ganim returned the kick 20 yards to the Prep 27-yard line.
During the march, Prep depended on Crowle, letting him have the ball seven times. But it was Smith who went in from three yards out. With Healy’s successful kick, the Jesuits cut the margin to three, 19-16.
Prep re-gained the lead when DelliSanti returned a punt.
However, Little’s score with 7:56 left put West Haven back on top.
The game wasn’t decided until Crowle, who led all Prep rushers with 114 yards on 20 carries, scored with under four minutes to play while carrying Phillips into the end zone on his back.
Smith rushed for 89 and threw for another 75, as the Jesuits had 288 yards total offense.

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