WEST HAVEN — Usually, the annual Battle of West Haven is between two of top teams in the Southern Connecticut Conference.
Not this year as it’s been a little bit of a down year for both Notre Dame and a rough one for West Haven.
But Friday night the two teams put on a show for a large crowd with Notre Dame holding off West Haven, 41-35, in the Soderman Bowl at Veteran’s Field.
“That was the best game I’ve ever been involved in, playing or coaching,” Notre Dame coach Joe DeCaprio said. “It means so much to both sides. We just made one more play than they did.”
The winning touchdown came with just 48 seconds left when Jackson Zalinsky (12-for-21 passing for 288 yards and four touchdowns) hit Aiden Stankiewicz for the second time in the game for a score, this time from 32 yards out.
— John Pierson (@JPPierson) November 16, 2019
“They gambled a lot and sent the house,” DeCaprio said. “Our quarterback hung in there and he took some shots. On that last touchdown, he took a big shot.”
West Haven had a shot, but quarterback Andre Rentas (5-for-17 passing for 55 yards and 147 yards rushing) was intercepted with 19.6 seconds remaining to end the game.
“It’s a very tough loss,” West Haven coach Rich Boshea said. “But our kids played so hard. We’re having a down year, but they are fighting through.”
What killed West Haven, especially in the second half, were breakdowns in the secondary. Zalinsky was able to find receivers wide open behind the corners and safeties.
“We’ve had both corners out so we had to put different guys at safety and corner,” Boshea said. “It’s tough when guys are going both ways.”
What was a 14-14 game at halftime became a wild offensive show in the second half with Zalinsky in the air and Rentas on the ground.
West Haven took its final lead of the night, 27-21 in the third quarter when Rentas scored touchdowns of 53 and 56 yards.
However, Damian Blount put Notre Dame back ahead, 28-27, with a 26-yard touchdown jaunt with 11:13 to go.
Zalinsky then connected with Tommy Candelora for 51 yards in the air to give the Green Knights a 35-27 lead midway though the fourth quarter.
West Haven wouldn’t go away as Jaden Grant rambled into the end zone from nine yards out with three minutes to go and the Blue Devils added the two-point conversion to make it 35-35, setting up the wild last minute.
Notre Dame barely remains on life support for a CIAC Class L playoff spot with only the annual Green Bowl at Hamden remaining on its schedule.
“We’ve gotten beaten by some quality teams,” DeCaprio said. “We though we could finish 7-3, but we’ll take 6-4. I don’t think there a a lot of teams that would want to face us.”
It’s been a tough year for West Haven, which dropped its third consecutive game and is 2-7 for the season with its annual Thanksgiving Day game at Fairfield Prep left on the docket.
“That’s the best two-win team in the country,” DeCaprio said.
NOTRE DAME-WH 41, WEST HAVEN 35
WEST HAVEN 6 8 13 8 — 35
NOTRE DAME-WH 7 7 7 20 — 41
[WH] Andre Rentas: 1-yard run at 7:14, 1st QTR
[NDW] Austin Pieck: 6-yard pass from Jackson Zalinsky (Aidan Walsh kick) at 0:11, 1st QTR
[WH] Justin Medina: 33-yard pass from Andre Rentas (Pierion Butler run) at 9:51, 2nd QTR
[NDW] Damian Blount: 9-yard run (Aidan Walsh kick) at 5:57, 2nd QTR
[NDW] Robbie Oliverio: 6-yard pass from Jackson Zalinsky (Aidan Walsh kick) at 9:35, 3rd QTR
[WH] Andre Rentas: 53-yard run (Isaac Morales kick) at 8:16, 3rd QTR
[WH] Andre Rentas: 56-yard run at 1:27, 3rd QTR
[NDW] Damian Blount: 26-yard run (Aidan Walsh kick) at 11:13, 4th QTR
[NDW] Tommy Candelora: 51-yard pass from Jackson Zalinsky (Aidan Walsh kick) at 7:20, 4th QTR
[WH] Jaden Grant: 9-yard run (Jordan Berrios pass) Andre Rentas at 3:00, 4th QTR
[NDW] Aiden Stankiewicz: 32-yard pass from Jackson Zalinsky at 0:48, 4th QTR