WEST HAVEN >> Notre Dame coach Tom Marcucci didn’t mind his team celebrating a hard-fought 40-18 Soderman Bowl victory over rival West Haven Friday night at Ken Strong Stadium.
At least at first.
“Just a couple. Not too much,” Marcucci admonished his team as more and more people tried to get photos of individual players with the trophy, dedicated to the memory of World War II Medal of Honor recipient William A. Soderman — the only West Haven resident ever to receive the nation’s highest military honor.
Notre Dame (2-0) showed why it is ranked fifth in the Register/GameTimeCT.com state poll (tops in the SCC) with a mostly dominant performance over a No. 10 West Haven team that had beaten defending Class LL-Small champion Xavier last week in Rich Boshea’s first game as head coach.
Marcucci and the Green Knights are thrilled to be off to a fast start, but with North Haven, Shelton, Xavier, and Hand to come in the next four weeks, any self-congratulatory measures will probably be brief.
“I’m happy that we’re 2-0, but there’s no time to celebrate with the schedule we play for sure,” Marcucci said.
While the Green Knights blanked Fairfield Prep impressively 34-0 last Friday, they struggled offensively at times.
Not this week.
On the first play from scrimmage, Christian Lupoli found Jonathan Aceto for a 75-yard touchdown pass. After West Haven went three-and-out, it took Notre Dame just two plays to go 77 yards, the last 49 on a Nico Ragaini run. Less than three minutes into the game, West Haven was down 14-0.
“We just worked really hard in practice this week,” Lupoli said. “The coaches were honest about what we needed to do this week, and we spent extra time in the film room looking at some things. This is our crosstown rival and we needed to set the tempo early.”
Despite being outgained 281-64 in the first half, West Haven was thrown a lifeline midway through the second quarter when Lupoli’s only incompletion of the half was returned 90 yards for a touchdown by West Haven’s Anthony Godfrey to cut the lead to 14-6.
But the Green Knights just took the ball and scored again, this time on a Lupoli 11-yard run.
When the Blue Devils went three-and-out again, Jose Conde hit a high-arcing, beautiful looking punt, only to have Ragaini return it 65 yards for a touchdown, giving Notre Dame a 26-6 lead at the half.
It was Ragaini’s second punt return for a touchdown in as many weeks (he also had a 40-yarder that didn’t go for a score) and Notre Dame’s third of the season.
“We worked all week on punting away from Ragaini,” Boshea said. “Maybe next time, I’ll tell them to punt it directly to him. That was really the nail in the coffin. Everything we worked on seemed to fall apart in the first half.”
Prince Brooks made it 33-6 early in the third quarter and it looked like the game really might get out of hand, but West Haven managed to score on back-to-back possessions (staying mostly on the ground) against a defense that hadn’t previously given up a point this season.
With the score 33-18, West Haven drove to the Notre Dame 30 with seven minutes left, but was stopped on downs, and the Green Knights finally put the game away.
Lupoli ran for 159 yards and two scores, as well as completing 13-of-15 passes for 164 yards. Ragaini was again keyed on and held to just three catches and 25 yards receiving, but just like in the season opener, it opened up space for his teammates and he contributed in other ways, including a first-half interception.
“I think we were close to making some big plays last week, but they just didn’t quite come off,” Marcucci said. “Christian was great this week. He ran the ball great. He made the right reads and some great decisions. Ragaini did his thing. We just happen to have a lot of playmakers this year.”
Notre Dame-West Haven 40, West Haven 18
Notre Dame-West Haven 14 12 7 7 0 — 40
West Haven 0 6 6 6 0 — 18
N—Jonathan Aceto 76 pass from Christian Lupoli (Christian Silvernale kick)
N—Nico Ragaini 49 run (Silvernale kick)
W—Anthony Godfrey 90 int ret (kick failed)
N—Christian Lupoli 11 run (kick failed)
N—Nico Ragaini 65 punt ret
N—Prince Brooks 9 run (Silvernale kick)
W—Kyle Godfrey 1 run (run failed)
W—Chris Chance 8 run (run failed)
N—Christian Lupoli 4 run (Silvernale kick)
Team records: West Haven 1-1; Notre Dame-West Haven 2-0