Weekly focus will keep Prep in playoff mentality
As far as Fairfield Prep coach Tom Shea is concerned, each win is worth an extra week. Six additional days of keeping the dream alive of returning to the CIAC playoffs.
The first six-day extension took place last Friday night as the Jesuits tied the game on the last play and then used a winning extra point with no time on the clock to beat Hand 23-22 at Ludlowe's Taft Field.
"We're looking at every game now as a playoff game," Prep quarterback Colton Smith said after he scored from one-yard out as the final seconds ticked off the clock, tying the game and setting the stage for Hank Healey winning PAT kick. "We know that we have to come out and execute in order to win. We did that in the first half, we struggled a little in the third quarter but then on that last drive, we put it together and scored."
Prep got the ball on its own 20 with 2:44 to play and thanks to a 14-yard pass from Smith to Joe Ganim and Smith's 20-yard quickly moved the ball to the Hand 35 with 1:48 to play. Facing a fourth-and-5 from the 30 with 1:07 left, Smith found John Dellisanti for 15 yards as the clock ticked under a minute.
Gamin's 11-yard rush and a illegal substitution flag against Hand put the ball at the two-yard line with 24 seconds left. Smith fumbled as he tried to get across the goal line but offensive guard A.J. Mansolillo recovered, the clock still ticking downward. But instead of spiking the football (as he was told to do) Smith called a play and pushed his way behind Mansolillo and into the end zone as the horn sounded.
"I saw the hole, kind of got stood up but the line pushed me in," Smith said. "I was right in front of the ref holding the ball over the line and he called it for the touchdown."
It was a win that improved the Jesuits to 4-2 and kept their playoff hopes alive for at least one more week -- Prep plays at 6-0 Cheshire tonight at 7 p.m. -- and basically has to win if they want to keep those CIAC dreams alive for another week.
"We still have the possibility of going to the playoffs," Shea said. "We have Cheshire coming up and boy, they're tough but for six more days, there's a possibility. If we win then, there's still a possibility, so playoff football, the boys aspire to that and it started last week."
Still, the task is daunting. After Cheshire tonight, Prep still has to play at Amity (2-4), at Warde against Hamden (2-4), at Xavier (6-0) and at West Haven (3-3).
"We've been working very hard at this for the past eight months and two losses are very tough on everybody on the team," Smith said. "We've put everything we have into this and it showed in that last drive."
Now, they just have to do it for five more weeks.
Playing well between the 20's is one thing, playing well -- and scoring -- inside the 20 is something else entirely. And that inability to score inside the 20 was what killed Ludlowe last Saturday in its 16-14 loss to Norwalk at Taft Field.
One possession was stopped on downs by the Bears defense while two others came as the result of interceptions, turnovers that led to the Falcons' third loss in its last four games.
Ludlowe Quarterback Bryan Pacewicz completed 12 passes for 179 yards -- seven of those going to Patrick O'Leary (125 yards) but he was picked off by the Bears secondary at the Norwalk 3 on one possession and in the end zone on the other, two potential touchdowns that would have turned defeat into victory.
The Falcons (3-3) take on Westhill tonight at 7 p.m. at Taft Field, the last home game of the season before finishing with four straight road games, McMahon, East Haven, Stamford and at Warde on Thanksgiving.
After getting banged around in giving up 35 points in a loss to No. 1 New Canaan and then 42 points in a loss to No. 2 Darien, the Warde defense finally did a little banging of its own against Wilton last Saturday at Fujitani Field.
The Mustangs allowed the Warriors just 173 total yards and one touchdown en route to a 14-7 win that evened their record at 3-3. The defense was sparked by two interceptions in the final five minutes -- along with a fumble recovery -- by senior cornerback Jack Whiting.
"They (the defense) were great. Wilton's tough. They were bigger than I thought up front and they run the ball hard and for us to cause that many turnovers (three) was easily the difference," Warde head coach Duncan Dellavolpe said. "I'm thrilled with what the defense did, just the aggression that they played with, the determination, getting to the ball and causing turnovers. That was really big."
Whiting's first interception came with 4:34 to play when Wilton was looking to tie the game. One a second-and-11 from the Mustangs 13, Whiting got in front of Warriors receiver Jack Dexter in the end zone to end the threat. The second came with 1:29 to play when he again got in front of Dexter at the Warde 37 and went down the sidelines 50 yards to put the game on ice.
"The defense played great the whole game," Whiting said. "We knew that Dexter was their go-to receiver and he (quarterback R.J. Romeo) was staring him down pretty hard so I was able to jump a couple of routes and get the ball."
In addition, Warde also stopped Wilton at its own four-yard line, thanks to a first quarter goal line stand.
"When we needed a big play, the D line all stood up," said linebacker Wade Petro, who posted close to a dozen tackles. "We were strong at the point of attack and we filled the holes and made tackles."
And after five weeks of frustration, Notre Dame of Fairfield finally posted its first win of the season, rallying from a 27-14 deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Crosby 34-27, thanks to a touchdown run from Hakim Fleming and two from William Kelly.
"It's a whole big process," Lancers coach Ted Boynton said earlier in the season. "It starts with the administration backing us up, we talk to the kids and the kids talk to kids throughout the school and we're just trying to make them believe that with hard work that the program is going to turn around. It's been broke for a long time. We're going to hit bumps in the roads but we're going to get through it."
Fleming scored on a two-yard run to cut Crosby's lead to 27-21 before Kelly went 23 yards to score and the PAT kick put Notre Dame in front 28-27. On the next possession, Kelly went 75 yards to lock down the Lancers' first win if the season.
The first of hopefully many in the future.
"I've been with Notre Dame for the past 13 seasons and I was here during the good times in the (Jeff) Bevino era ... the main reason I took this job was that I really love Notre Dame," Boynton said.
"I love what they stand for. I love the kids here. These kids are true blue kids who really want to be successful. We're taking all these baby steps in the right direction. And I believe if we continue on that path, eventually we're going to get to where we want to be."