Football roundup / Big stop puts Prep back on track
The play was going to Prince Brooks. It was fourth down and Notre Dame-West Haven needed one yard to get a first down, one yard to create a first-and-goal situation and if they scored a touchdown, they would cut the Fairfield Prep lead down to one possession.
And, as expected, the Green Knights junior running back got the ball. But Prep linebacker Logan Clair was waiting for him. Pow. Tackle for loss. Jesuits possession. And 85 yards later, Prep scored to open a commanding en route to a 35-18 victory and get the defending Class LL runners-up back on the winning track.
"That was huge. I had a feeling it was coming that way and I hit the gap hard and luckily, got the tackle," said Smith, a 5-foot-10, 185-pound senior, who also had two sacks in the game. "All week we had a real focus that we need to improve our defense. And that we needed to make plays and get better and execute better and we went out there and did it."
Over the first two weeks, Prep's defense had been a key topic of conversation. But not in a good way as the Jesuits had allowed 88 points and close to 900 yards of total offense. But against the Green Knights, that defense took a solid first step back to respectability with an impressive showing.
And tonight, the Jesuits (2-1) get another shot at defensive redemption when they play at Branford at 7 p.m.
"They got better," Prep head coach Tom Shea said after the game. "We worked on a few things and they got better. It's not going to happen overnight but we always emphasize the process and we had a better week of preparation. We have a lot of young guys over there on defense and I think they're starting to learn, understand what varsity football is like, the level of competition we play and they got better this week and I'm pleased with that. We're not where we want to be, we gave up a couple of big plays but we gave up fewer big plays, so we've got to look at the bright side."
They gave up fewer big plays and made a ton. Defensive tackle Anthony Palazzolo recovered a Notre Dame-West Haven fumble at the Prep one yard line in the first quarter that could have tied the game and safety Brett Stevenson intercepted a pass in the second quarter that led to a Jesuits touchdown. Linebacker Zack Mazza and cornerback Conor Bercik both had pass breakups and linebackers Nick Franchuk and Luke Clair both had a sack to go along with Logan Clair's two.
"He's a ferocious kid," Shea said of Clair. "He's not a big guy but he's got the heart of a lion. He trains like a maniac, he's strong and he's one of those kids that has a great motor."
Against ND-WH, all the Jesuits defense had their motors running.
"It was a driving force during practice because in those first two weeks we weren't happy," Clair said. "So, we really worked on it and went out and made tackles when we needed to. We got it done."
None of the other three city high schools did, however. Ludlowe fell to Central 24-21 as the Hilltoppers rallied to score 18 points in the fourth quarter with the winning touchdown coming with just a minute to play. And while Ludlowe lost in the last minute, Warde lost in the final second, falling 17-14 as Trinity Catholic kicked a field goal to stun the Mustangs.
And Notre Dame-Fairfield continued to play well on offense and struggle on defense, losing to Weston 51-30.
MISCUES HURT WARDE
In falling to the Crusaders, Warde's offense threw two interceptions, lost a fumble and was guilty of several crucial penalties that had head coach Duncan Dellavolpe lamenting his team's inability to make a big play.
"The problem was, we got inside the red zone five times and couldn't score," Dellavolpe said. "Everything we had was there, we just dropped a couple of passes, couldn't convert on fourth down and you can't win the game like that."
So, this week in practice, Dellavolpe went back to basics.
"We've go to make sure we're going 100 percent," Dellavolpe said. "We still have a job to do."
One bright spot for Warde was junior receiver Joey Portenza, who caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Brandon Bisack and a 58-yard halfback option touchdowns pass from senior Nick Nardone.
Warde (2-1) played New Canaan Thursday night.
LITTLE `D' AT N.D.
In their three losses, Notre Dame has allowed 166 points -- an average of 55.3 a game.
"We're just lacking a little bit of experience on defense," Lancers coach Ted Boynton said. "Played a great first half ... took a lead in the second quarter but in the second half, we struggled yet again."
But there were bright spots. Quarterback Shea Olayos completed 13 passes for 173 yards and tailback Hakim Fleming -- last week's Fairfield Citizen Athlete of the Week -- rushed 28 times for 242 yards and scored two touchdowns.
"He's just got great desire. He's a heck of a runner," Boynton said of Fleming, who has rushed for 443 yards in three games. "Once he gets moving he's a tough guy to take down."
Boynton praised his players' toughness, considering that several of them are having to play both ways, a physically exhausting task.
"The kids are working so hard. Each week we're pulling out positives," Boynton said. "I knew this would be a challenge but we just have to make sure they stay disciplined and continue to work hard. We just have to keep fighting."
Notre Dame played Masuk Thursday night at Sacred Heart University.
FALCONS' LEAD FIZZLES
Heading into the fourth quarter against winless Central, Ludlowe held a seemingly solid 21-6 lead. But the Hilltoppers scored three touchdowns, including the game-winner on a 79-yard run by Mykel Morris with a minute to play.
The Falcons (2-1) played Harding Thursday afternoon.