MIDDLETOWN >> Turnovers. Field position. Defense.
Put those three elements of the game together as Xavier did Friday night and the result was a 31-7 Falcons’ win over Fairfield Prep on Senior Night at Palmer Field.
“The turnovers, especially that interception in the first half, were huge,” said Xavier coach Sean Marinan, who saw his club improve to 4-3.
The referenced interception came on the first play of the second quarter. Xavier had a 7-0 lead thanks to a 13-yard run by quarterback Will Levis midway through the first quarter. But the lead was shaky as Prep found itself with a fourth-and-one at the Xavier 1-yard line.
But Fairfield quarterback Pat Conte, who had a miserable game completing just seven of 31 passes for 64 yards, threw into a crowd at the 1-yard line where Danny Taylor picked it off and returned it 74 yards to the Prep 24-yard line.
Eight plays later Levis scored from a yard out and Xavier led 14-0.
“The interception changed the momentum they were building and swung it right back to us,” said Marinan. “Then when we added a touchdown, that obviously was a big part of the game.”
Prep (4-3) instantly answered with a 70-yard touchdown run by Doug Harrison (17 carries,154 yards) that cut the lead to 14-7 . But Xavier answered with a time-consuming drive that produced a 30-yard field goal by Sam Norris with 19 seconds left in the half to give the Falcons a 17-7 lead at intermission.
Xavier put the game away with two third quarter touchdowns by Glenn Cunningham, (20 carries, 146 yards) of 14 yards and 76 yards and the Falcons remained alive for a possible Class LL playoff spot.
The first of Cunningham’s scores came as a result of a short field as the Xavier defense held Prep to a minus five yards on three plays after Norris, who is only a sophomore, put the second half kickoff into the end zone. The eventual 30-yard punt gave Xavier the ball at the Prep 45 and after Levis hit Owen Gonzalez for a 31-yard gain, Cunningham scored.
Three Xavier scoring drives were short-field drives of 30, 25 and 45 yards.
The drive that resulted in the field goal was a legitimate, 12-play drive from the Xavier 20 to the Prep 13. And of course, the 76-yard TD run by Cunningham speaks for itself.
Prep finished with 218 yards offense, 154 of that by Harrison and 108 of those yards came on two rushes.
“For the second week in a row our defense played well and this week was better than last week,” said Marinan. “And this time we didn’t give away a two-touchdown lead. We moved Cunningham into the middle and he’s a very physical player, which you need at inside linebacker. And on offense he’s just a horse.”
Marinan also credited offensive coordinator Greg Jaskot with what he called a great job of manipulating the Prep defense with various shifts that enabled the offense to produce.
“That’s what happened on Levis’ first touchdown,” said Marinan.
On that score Levis ran untouched into the end zone around his right end.
Marinan also said the Levis (11-for-22, 129 yards) is, “Coming along. He’s still a little inconsistent, but he;s getting there.”
Xavier, which plays at North Haven on Friday, had 332 yards on offense and intercepted three Prep passes.