Most high school football fanatics had Nov. 11 circled on their calendars when the season began. That night, SCC powers West Haven and Shelton collide at Finn Stadium in Shelton. But Shelton’s loss to Fairfield Prep last week took some luster off that anticipated contest, and ended the Gaels’ 29-game regular season winning streak in the process.
Despite that, it’s very likely that Shelton still qualifies for the Class LL state tournament, even if the Gaels lose to the Westies, provided they get past Valley rival Derby (1-7) on Thanksgiving.
West Haven/Shelton could still be a classic, but it’s no longer the most important league game this weekend.
Attention now shifts to the SCC Division I clash between Xavier and host Notre Dame-West Haven, which kicks off on Friday night at 7 at Veteran’s Stadium. Both teams are 5-3 and fighting for their playoff lives.
Xavier is currently 10th in the Class LL playoff ratings, while Notre Dame is ninth in Class L. Another loss would all but end the playoff prospects for either team.
“It’s a big game,” Xavier coach Sean Marinan said. “Both teams are highly motivated for this game, not that we wouldn’t be anyway with the history between the two teams.”
Xavier’s won three in a row since losing back-to-back games against Shelton and Cheshire beginning on Oct. 1. The Falcons, who lost to West Haven earlier in the season, are aware that they must win out in order to have any chance of qualifying for the playoffs.
“Once we got that third loss, that’s what it was — one and done,” Marinan said. “Maybe that’s something that’s impacted our kids.”
Since the third loss, Marinan said his team’s been more focused and playing better in all areas.
“We’ve been playing more consistently,” Marinan said. “We had been playing well at times but then got very lackadaisical at times during games. The last few weeks have been more consistent, and the scores show that.”
Marinan couldn’t exactly explain the reasoning behind his team’s inconsistent play at times.
“I can’t put my finger on it,” Marinan said. “They’re high school kids. Hopefully we learned some things from those close losses. It was just really them getting lazy during games, but that has since seemed to have been corrected.”
During the Falcons’ current three-game winning streak, Xavier defeated Hand in overtime, crushed Fairfield Prep and then played, perhaps, it’s most complete game all season in a convincing 42-10 victory over North Haven this past weekend.
In that game, junior Will Levis completed 19 of 24 passes with one touchdown. Three of his incompletions were dropped.
“He had his best game of the year against North Haven,” Marinan said. “We’re pleased with the way he is coming along. At the beginning of the year, he was kind of overwhelmed in the big spotlight. When his mechanics are good, he’s a pretty good quarterback. Sometimes he rushes through things, but he seemed very comfortable against North Haven. He has all the tools you’re looking for in a Division I quarterback.”
The 6-foot-3, 205 pound Levis also ran for two touchdowns in the win over North Haven.
“He’s been running the ball very well the last few weeks,” Marinan said. “He’s a pretty decent runner when he needs to run. He came away this past week with a lot of confidence.”
Levis’ top target is senior Owen Gonzalez, who’s made 35 catches for 558 yards. Senior tight end Parker Rowley (24 catches), senior receiver Joe Galatie (23) and junior receiver Kyle MacGillis (15) have also played well.
“We thought Rowley would be pretty good for us as tight ends go,” Marinan said. “At the beginning of the year he was the top threat but then teams took him away. Kyle MacGillis has been the biggest surprise of the year, he’s made some big catches for us. They’re not the fastest bunch in the world, but when they run their routes correctly, they put a lot of stress on defenses.”
Senior Glenn Cunningham (6-2, 215) is the team’s featured running back.
“He’s really having a good year,” Marinan said. “He’s progressing. He’s faster than some people think, I think he’s even faster than we thought he was. He runs hard. He’s a big kid who’s learning how to run behind his pads, and to use his pads to his advantage.”
Cunningham at safety, Galatie (outside linebacker), Gonzalez (corner back), junior Ryan Cartelli (inside linebacker) and senior Niko Kvietkus (defensive end) lead the Xavier defense. Kvietkus also plays on the offensive line.
“Kvietkus has been a dude for us on both sides of the ball,” Marinan said.