The Fairfield Prep football team’s theme this season has been ‘Why not us?’
For this group of players that phrase symbolizes their journey best. It’s a story of in 2010 winning just three games. After a steady and committed rebuilding process, and adding to the win column each year, the Jesuits are in the state title game for the first since 1988.
Prep has won three championships (1988, 1982, 1977) but that is in the past. For the current players they don’t remember any of that.
“We have a great football tradition, a lot of the greatness was before these guys,” head coach Tom Shea said. “They are creating their own story.”
Prep (11-2) will look to make it four state titles on Saturday as they face Southington (11-1) at 1:35 p.m. on Arute Field at Central Connecticut State University for the Class LL championship.
“Freshman year going to the games was kind of like a joke,” senior Stephen Walsh said. “And then started playing varsity and last year we tasted it and it kind of got away from us. Now it’s a whole new drive, one focus, one mind; we know what we got to do.”
For a team that is somewhat new to the postseason, they haven’t played like it. The seventh-seeded Jesuits enter Saturday as one of the hottest teams in the state. They are riding a seven-game win streak, and been in playoff mode since October. They have survived a tough Southern Connecticut Conference schedule that forced them to beat West Haven twice. It’s been a combined effort for the Jesuits that average 270.6 yards on the ground that is supported by a tenacious front line. Prep is averaging 129.2 passing yards.
“We’ve seen a lot of film on them and they are a very big, physical team,” Southington head coach Mike Drury said. “They got a great quarterback, running back, (Nick) Crowle, he’s a package; he’s all 245. We really got to play a great game defensively.”
Southington’s defense has allowed just 13.3 points a game including a 45-0 shutout of Ridgefield in the semifinals. Drury said they play a 3-3 stack defensive scheme.
“Kind of a fast, aggressive style,” he said. “That’s the way we kind of have to play.”
Southington, which last advanced to the LL title game in 2006, will be faced with the task of stopping Prep’s dual-threat quarterback Colton Smith. Smith is inching closer to 2,000 yards rushing on the season as he’s accumulated 1,736 and rushed for 27 touchdowns. He’s thrown for 1,588 and nine scores.
“We’ve seen some dual-threat quarterbacks but he’s very explosive in the backfield,” Drury said. “We just have to make sure we play a disciplined defense.”
Alongside Smith, Crowle has 15 TDs on the ground and rushed for 878 yards.
Prep’s challenge will be stopping Southington’s potent passing attack. The Blue Knights are putting up 230.8 yards through the air. Quarterback Stephen Barmore has thrown for 2,742 yards, 38 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He has a crop of wide receivers to throw to led by junior Alex Jamele who has caught 27 TDs and averages 116.1 receiving yards.
“We know they are going to pass, we have to be aware of the deep ball,” Walsh said. “Southington has some really good players, but you got make plays in the end. If they throw the ball up you got to come down with it. You got to make a play.”
Southington’s ground game also demands attention. The Blue Knights are averaging 159.4 yards paced by senior Tyler Hyde’s 1,052 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Come Saturday both teams will be looking to add to the trophy case.
“We’re fired up,” Drury said with a smile. “The coaching staff and players are just looking forward to Saturday.”
Added Shea: “I’m thrilled. This is the culmination of many years of hard work. I’m excited.”