Fairfield Prep continues to make positive strides as it works its way back to its former status as a state heavyweight.
But as West Haven clearly demonstrated in front of 3,000 supporters at Ken Strong Stadium Thursday morning, speed is a difference-maker.
The Blue Devils' three-headed rushing attack, spearheaded by junior halfback Ervin Phillips and senior fullback Eddy Williams, overpowered the Jesuits with three first-half touchdowns en route to a 24-7 SCC victory that also clinched a Class LL playoff spot.
West Haven (8-2) will play at top-seeded Staples in a quarterfinal game Tuesday night.
The Jesuits' season, which began with such promise, ends with a pedestrian 6-4 mark.
"West Haven is a tough opponent," Prep coach Tom Shea said. "You can't mistakes against them, and we did early in the game. Not to take anything away from them, but we made it easy for them. But you don't want to play that team in the playoffs. They're going to be a tough out."
West Haven struck quickly less than four minutes into the game when Williams burst through the center of the Prep line, chugging 59 yards for a touchdown on the Blue Devils' fourth play from scrimmage.
It was evident Prep was having enormous difficulty defending West Haven's potent outside run game.
Senior quarterback Javon Taylor distributed the ball masterfully among his backfield.
A great stop by Prep safety Daniel Coyle prevented another Williams touchdown on the next series, although Williams did pick up 48 to go over 100 on his first two carries.
Halfback Duane Gary capped off the eight-play drive with an 11-yard scoring run off tackle. Tayvon Gibbs' second extra point -- which caromed off the crossbar and waffled across -- made it 14-0.
Prep quarterback Strecker Backe (13-for-24, 135 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) gamely tried to run the offense as best he could, but West Haven's front seven effectively squashed the Jesuits' running game and ultimately got the ball back at the start of the second quarter and promptly cashed in.
Williams bullied his way in from the 1 to finish off an eight-play, 59-yard drive and it was 21-0 with 8:50 to go before halftime.
"We like playing on turf," longtime West Haven coach Ed McCarthy said. "We have three good running backs. Phillips is our feature back, but Duane Gary is a good tough runner and Williams is a nice complement to them both."
West Haven rolled up 390 yards of offense, all but 24 on the ground. Williams had 167 yards on 17 carries, Phillips rushed for 110 on 21 carries and Gary had 91 yards on 12 rushes.
But Prep, despite crossing midfield only twice until the final minute, made it interesting with an impressive 73-yard march that featured two big gainers to receiver John Delisanti (6 catches, 78 yards).
The second, on a fourth-and 5 from the Westies 39, resulted in a touchdown when Delisanti blew past the coverage on a quick post."
And yet, that was the extent of the scoring until Gibbs connected for a 29-yard field goal set up by a Jesse Ridgway interception deep in Prep territory.
"We went to our 4-corner offense after we got the big lead," McCarthy said. "We got too conscious of watching the clock."
"You just have to keep your head down and keep grinding, and we did," Shea said. "But we dug ourselves too big a hole, and we couldn't get out of it."
FAIRFIELD PREP 0 7 0 0--7
WEST HAVEN 14 7 3 0--24
WH--Eddy Williams 59 run (Tayvon Gibbs kick)
WH--Duane Gary 11 run (Gibbs kick)t
WH--Williams 1 run (Gibbs kick)
WH--Gibbs 29 FG
Records: Fairfield Prep 6-4, West Haven 8-2