FAIRFIELD >> Senior Nick Crowle has seen his share of lean years at Fairfield Prep. But he was not about to let Thursday morning be the last time he put on the Jesuits uniform.
Rushing for 104 yards and three touchdowns, including the backbreaker with 2:41 remaining, Crowle helped his team get back to the postseason with a thrilling 29-20 victory over West Haven at Alumni Field.
The win, which snapped West Haven’s five-game winning streak in the series, lifts the Jesuits to the seventh seed in Class LL, where they will play at second-seeded Glastonbury in the quarterfinals Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
West Haven, which cost itself a home playoff game with the loss, drops to the sixth seed and will play at No. 3 Hall.
“This feels great,” Crowle said. “It has been four years of long, hard work with this in mind.”
The Westies could not stop the combination of Crowle and quarterback Colton Smith, as the pair rushed for 398 yards and all four touchdowns. Smith was particularly damaging as he continually carved up the West Haven defense for big chunks of yards at crucial times.
“This is big for our program,” Smith said after rushing for 294 yards on 32 carries. “We knew they were a very good football team. This is a huge win for us, especially on Thanksgiving, There is nothing better. We knew all the alumni were going to be here. We wanted to win for them.”
Trailing 20-2 in the second quarter, the Jesuits turned to Smith, Crowle and the offensive line to turn the game around.
A seven-play, 80-yard drive was capped when Smith broke several tackles and raced 27 yards for the score. When Smith hit Andrew Ostrosky with the conversion pass, Prep trailed 20-10 with 5:13 left in the half.
Then the Jesuits’ defense made perhaps the biggest play of the game with 1:49 to go in the half, stopping West Haven quarterback Duane Gary on 4th-and-goal from the 1.
“We have given up the fewest points in the league,” Fairfield Prep coach Tom Shea said after his team improved to 9-2. “That was a big play there. It stopped whatever momentum they could have had with the score.”
The Jesuits scored on their opening two possessions of the second half and never looked back, outgaining the Westies 228-42 after halftime.
Prep needed just six plays to go 66 yards to start the second half, capped by a 15-yard touchdown run by Crowle to cut the deficit to 20-16.
After West Haven punted on the ensuing possession, the Jesuits took the lead for good with a 31-yard touchdown run by Crowle with 4:31 left in the third quarter for a 22-20 lead, capping an 82-yard drive.
“They are a great football team,” West Haven coach Ed McCarthy said after his team fell to 9-2. “They are one of the premier teams in the state, without question. They deserved to win this game. We didn’t. They took charge of the game.”
The Westies never got on track in the second half as their best possession brought them to the Prep 38 in the final minutes. West Haven was hurt by three fumbled snaps in the second half and minus-9 yards of offense in the fourth quarter.
“Their defense is really good,” McCarthy said. “We also fumbled three handoffs on base plays in the second half.”
West Haven, which leads the series 14-4, opened the game in impressive fashion. Ervin Philips, who rushed for 80 yards on 15 carries, gave the Westies an 8-0 lead with a 1-yard run just 2:40 into the game.
After the Westies held the Jesuits deep in West Haven territory on Prep’s opening possession, Gary was tackled in the end zone for a safety, cutting West Haven’s lead to 8-2.
The Westies increased the lead to 14-2 when Gary hit Philips with a 47-yard touchdown strike on 3rd-and-long just 1:54 into the second quarter. Tayvon Gibbs’ extra point hit the left upright, keeping the lead at 12.
The Jesuits were doing little to show they were ready for the postseason as a fumble on their next possession was recovered by Marshont Little, setting up Gary’s 1-yard score and a 20-2 lead with 7:57 remaining in the first half. The conversion again failed on the pass, proving costly at the end.
Gary finished the game 7 of 10 for 98 yards and a touchdown.
Fairfield Prep 29, West Haven 20
West Haven 8 12 0 0 — 20
Fairfield Prep 2 8 12 7 — 29
W—Ervin Philips 1 run (Tommy Wilkerson recover fumble)
W—Ervin Philips 47 pass from Duane Gary (Kick failed)
W—Duane Gary 1 run (Pass failed)
F—Colton Smith 27 run (Smith pass to Andrew Ostrosky)
F—Nick Crowle 15 run (Run Failed)
F—Nick Crowle 31 run (Run Failed)
F—Nick Crowle 4 run (Henry Healy Kick)
Team records: Fairfield Prep 9-2; West Haven 9-2