WEST HAVEN >> Playing without the services of star running back Anthony Godfrey, and watching as fellow seniors Jakai Manning and Bobby Hawkins joined the walking wounded during the game, West Haven needed to turn to others to make big plays.
Seniors Jose Conde and Sheilan Velazquez were there to lead the way.
Behind a 93-yard kickoff return from Velazquez to start the game, and a key interception by Conde in the second half, West Haven, the third-ranked team in the Register/GameTimeCt Top 10 poll, defeated Fairfield Prep 28-21 in a Southern Connecticut Conference Tier I contest at Ken Strong Stadium in West Haven Thursday morning.
“The kickoff was all about the blocking,” Velazquez said after also catching four passes for 76 yards and a touchdown. “I was able to see the hole and hit it. We came out in the second half knowing we were not going to give up. We were just going to keep fighting.”
West Haven improved to 10-0 and unofficially clinched the second seed in Class LL. The Westies will host seventh-seeded Ridgefield Tuesday evening at 6:30 p.m. in the Class LL quarterfinals in West Haven. The CIAC makes all seeds official Friday morning.
The Jesuits, who came into the contest needing just a victory to qualify for the postseason, fell to 6-4 and were eliminated from postseason play.
“To not have Anthony Godfrey and to lose Jakai Manning right away, I can’t say enough about this team,” West Haven coach Rich Boshea said after his team held the Jesuits to just 33 yards of offense in the fourth quarter. “Then, we have another of our captains, Bobby Hawkins get hurt on the last play of the first half and had to fill his position. A lot of guys stepped up today.”
Boshea said he opted to rest Anthony Godfrey for the upcoming state playoffs.
Conde and Velazquez made sure the perfect season continued. While Velazquez made two impact plays in the first minute to give West Haven a 14-0 advantage, it was an interception by Conde with 7 minutes, 44 seconds remaining in the game which turned the contest around.
With the game even at 21 and the Jesuits driving deep into West Haven territory after outgaining the Westies 110-12 in the third quarter, Conde stepped in front of a Patrick Conte pass at the West Haven 26 and turned the ball over to the Westies.
“Coach called a cover three,” Conde said. “I saw the tight end coming and just jumped it. Big time players make big time plays.”
Five plays later, West Haven took the lead for good. Kyle Godfrey found a hole in the line, then cut in, before racing 53 yards for the eventual winning score with 6:17 left in the fourth quarter.
The score by Kyle Godfrey erased what was a brilliant comeback by the Jesuits as they trailed 14-0 less than a minute into the contest. After the long kickoff return by Velazquez, West Haven recovered a Prep fumble two plays later, and quarterback Tim McCarthy hit Velazquez for a 34-yard touchdown strike and a 14-0 lead just 39 seconds into the game.
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“That was exactly what we didn’t want to happen,” Fairfield Prep coach Keith Hellstern said. “I’m watching the kickoff return slowly playing itself out and their first play was a fade pass. We showed a lot of resiliency in the second half, but that hole was the deciding factor.”
Trailing 14-0, the Jesuits used an 8-play, 48-yard drive to get within 14-7 on a 1-yard run by Conte on the opening play of the second quarter.
West Haven responded, taking advantage of two personal fouls by the Jesuits, to march 74 yards in 10 plays. The drive was capped when
Kyle Godfrey plowed through from two yards out for a 21-7 lead.
The Jesuits started to steal the momentum with 30 seconds remaining in the first half, inching within 21-14 when Douglas Harrison scored from four yards out. Harrison finished the game with 196 yards on 36 carries.
“We battled,” Conte said after finishing with 99 yards passing. “That’s a very good team over there. They are state championship worthy.
They have shown that the first 10 games. They jumped out to a 14-0 lead just 40 seconds into the game, but we battled them the rest of the game. We came up a little short at the end. That’s a credit to West Haven. They are a great team. They are doing great things this year.”
The Jesuits, who held a 281-132 yard advantage through three quarters and 314-222 advantage for the game, tied the score at 21 with 2:34 left in the third quarter when Conte capped an 8-play 49-yard drive with a 1-yard plunge.
McCarthy finished 5-of-9 for 76 yards and a touchdown in the win for West Haven, while Kyle Godfrey added 99 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 15 carries.