Fairfield Prep looks to complete turnaround with Class LL championship
In 2009, Fairfield Prep's football program hit rock bottom, finishing as one of two winless teams in Class LL at 0-10.
But, with a victory Saturday, the Jesuits can complete the arduous climb back to the top.
Let's leave it to one of the team's impact seniors, Nick Crowle, to detail how far they've come.
"When I was coming in, they were 0-10. When I was a freshman, they were 3-7," he recalls. "I started my sophomore year, we were 5-5, (then) 6-4.
"Now, we're 11-2."
Now, the Jesuits are on the brink of history.
Thanks in large part to the 6-foot-3, 246-pound Crowle, who is as forceful a runner as he is a tackler, the Jesuits can lock up their fourth state title on Saturday at Central Connecticut State's Arute Field. They will need to beat No. 4 Southington (11-1) to complete the dramatic climb.
"I don't know if we totally believed it, but once we got on that roll ... I think we looked at ourselves in the tournament and said, `We can do something special with this team,'" said Crowle, a starter at fullback and linebacker.
That roll began nearly seven weeks ago with a shutout of Cheshire, which boosted the Jesuits to 5-2. Today, they're 11-2 -- a winner of seven straight -- and preparing for the school's first final appearance in 25 years.
"I thought that they would be able to do this, but so many things go into that," coach Tom Shea said. "You have to execute, you can't make mistakes. All those things that you practice to avoid sometimes happen."
Seventh-seeded Prep will make its fifth appearance in the final and first since the CIAC expanded each divisional playoff beyond two teams. It's 3-1 all-time in the final, with victories in 1988, 1982 and 1977. Southington has now made it seven times (1-5 in its appearances), most recently in 2006 when it lost to Greenwich.
A 1973 graduate of Prep, Shea, 58, is thoroughly versed in the school's football history. He was an assistant at Prep in the 1970s and 1990s, before he was appointed to the head role in 2010 to revive a floundering program. Now, in his fourth year at the helm, he has the Jesuits on the brink of a long-awaited title.
"It's been a long time," Shea said.
"For someone like me and alumni who've been around, it will be tremendously rewarding," he continued. "For myself and the players, it's rewarding in the sense that they've worked so hard to get here, considering particularly where we started."
Prep began the year 4-1, on the way to fulfilling its "start fast, finish strong" mantra. But, a 35-27 loss at Daniel Hand a week later damaged its postseason hopes. The Jesuits needed to win out.
"We needed to regroup as a team," Crowle said. "We've just been riding that mantra through today."
After locking up its first playoff berth in seven years with a win over West Haven on Thanksgiving, Prep notched its first postseason victory in 25 years by topping Glastonbury in the LL quarterfinals. It took another win over West Haven -- its second in nine days over the SCC foe -- for Prep to punch its ticket to Saturday's championship game (1:35 p.m.)
Crowle has played a significant role along the playoff run, rushing for a combined 297 yards and four touchdowns over the last three games. He's also registered double-digit tackles in two of those games at linebacker, bringing his total to 102 for the season.
"They're an all-around great team," Southington coach Mike Drury said. "We just know that we have to execute and play our best game on Saturday."
With dual-threat Colton Smith (1,736 yards rushing, 1,588 yards passing) quarterbacking the offense, Prep has been a lot for opponents to handle. But, Southington has its own weapon under center in senior Stephen Barmore, who's thrown for 38 touchdowns and will join Crowle at Yale next year.
"This quarterback gets that ball 40, 50 yards downfield and `boom,' in six seconds and a play they could put six (points) up on you," Shea said of Barmore. "We're going to have to defend real well, try to put some pressure on and see what happens."
The title-hungry Jesuits are eager to find out.
More InformationClass LL state final
No. 4 Southington (11-1) v. No. 7 Fairfield Prep (11-2)
WHEN: Saturday, 1:35 p.m.
WHERE: Arute Field, Central Connecticut State University, New Britain
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Southington beat No. 5 Norwich Free Academy 52-14 and No. 8 Ridgefield 45-0; Fairfield Prep beat No. 2 Glastonbury 33-23 and No. 6 West Haven 29-28.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Southington -- Sr. QB Stephen Barmore (38 TD, 5 INT, 2,742 YD), Sr. RB Tyler Hyde (1,052 rushing YD, 19 total TD), Jr. WR Alex Jamele (69 catches, 1,393 receiving YD, 27 total TD). Fairfield Prep -- Jr. QB Colton Smith (1,736 rushing YD, 1,588 passing YD, 36 total TD), Sr. FB/LB Nick Crowle (878 rushing YD, 15 total TD, 102 tackles), Jr. WR John DelliSanti (41 catches, 831 receiving YD, 12 total TD).