The curious case of the missing Fairfield Prep defense dates all the way back to last December, when Southington hung 38 points on the Jesuits in the second half of the Class LL finals en route to a 52-34 victory. Locals will tell you, though, that there were rumors of the abduction the week before when West Haven nearly upset Prep in the semifinals, a contest that finished 29-28.
But with the season complete after the Southington loss (Prep’s first appearance in the state finals in a quarter-century), there wasn’t much reason for local authorities to pursue it, and combine that with the jurisdiction issues that Fairfield Prep presents in the SCC (I mean do the New Haven or Fairfield county sheriffs take the case?), and the matter was dropped, assuming it would rectify itself once 2014 started.
Yet after Stamford, whom Prep has blanked in last year’s opener, hung 40 on the Jesuits (albeit in a 59-40 Prep victory), Tom Shea called in the CSI experts to figure out exactly what had happened. They dug through bushes in and around Prep’s practice facility and had some leads, but they weren’t in time to stop St. Joseph from running wild last Saturday in trouble, finding little resistance to their offense in a 48-33 win.
And so, always one to try to do a good deed (as far as you know), I took it upon myself to brave Fairfield County traffic Friday night to try to see if I could help. After all, as Nancy Drew said, all you need to solve a mystery is an inquisitive temperament and two good friends, and I’ve got the former.
Upon arriving at Ludlowe High (which is strange, but necessary for a season, I guess), I didn’t see much amiss, except a late arriving crowd, although Notre Dame did have 85 total yards in the first quarter and trailed just 7-6. But in the second quarter, a pass rush materialized. Anthony Palazzolo (all 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds of him) found himself chasing Christian Lupoli repeatedly, and eventually Brett Stevenson would have had a Pick-Six if it weren’t for a penalty near the ND goal line.
On the next series, Logan Clair sacked Lupoli – one of four from the Jesuits on the evening – and late in the third quarter, Prep led 28-6, with a heavy emphasis on the “6”. Notre Dame would get two late touchdowns to cut the final margin to 35-18, which didn’t please Shea, but had this mystery finally been solved?
“It was just tackling, getting some kind of pass rush,” senior Colin Ihlefeld said. “Our pass defense got burned pretty badly the first couple of weeks, so we tightened it up a lot at practice this week. We worked really hard and it showed out there today. It was frustrating, but that’s why we need to put in more work.”
Is it possible that reports of the powers of the Prep defense being stolen might have been greatly exaggerated? Maybe Southington was just the best team in the state last year with an explosive offense that was capable of a run like that against anyone? That Stamford quarterback Jalen Brown (who subsequently threw seven TDs against Harding and 332 more yards Saturday against Trumbull) is just really good? And that defending Class M champion St. Joseph – with Mufasha Abdul Basir and plenty of the other weapons – are also that tough to deal with?
“We knew our defense would stand up eventually. It comes down to us executing, that’s all it is,” Colton Smith – who played about half the game on defense – said.
Shea will keep the CSI numbers in his contact list for now, especially (after Branford this week) with a stretch of Shelton, Hand, and Cheshire coming up. Prep will likely have to win two of those three to have another chance to get back to the state finals.
“We did a lot of technique stuff in practice,” Shea said. “We needed to generate a pass rush; we did a terrible job of that the first couple of weeks, and we were better tonight. Long way to go, but the hard work paid off. Sometimes there’s very simple things that kids aren’t doing and it takes a while and eventually they say, ‘Huh”, so I’m hoping that’s what’s happening. We’re still very much a work in progress.”
So with that mystery apparently solved, what’s next? Case of the disappearing natural grass fields?
“They knew it was coming, but we have total confidence in our line, and I just followed them.”
We may not yet have flying cars for personal use, but we may have something more remarkable: a four-month recovery from an ACL tear.
According to the Meriden Record-Journal, Cheshire senior Jack Cunningham underwent surgery to repair his ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) on May 15. On Sept. 19, Cunningham scored a touchdown against Lyman Hall. Last Friday, Cunningham and the Rams went to Ken Strong Stadium and pushed West Haven around to the tune of a 42-28 victory, their third straight to open 2014.
If you’re saying to yourself, ‘What’s the big deal?’, you can thank your lucky stars that you haven’t been around many ACL injuries, perhaps the scariest in modern youth sports. The ACL “tear” is actually is a misnomer, the ligament usually explodes and therefore needs to be completely replaced, a process that had taken approximately nine months in the not-too-distant past.
In Cunningham’s case, it was a piece of his left hamstring that was used as the replacement ligament, and the goal for his return was set at 85 percent of strength in the knee. Prior to the Lyman Hall game, he tested at 95 percent and was cleared to play.
And so, what looked like a career-ending (at least high school) injury instead was reduced to a game and a half. Cunningham’s family is no stranger to adversity or football, Jack’s grandfather Bill was head coach of the Cheshire program from 1972-87, while his older sister Kelly died of cancer in 2005 when Jack was just eight.
With Andrew Yamin and Cunningham running behind a line that has dominated its first three opponents, Cheshire – which was just 20-21 since its state title in 2009 coming into this season – might be ready to return to the top of the SCC.
Hand’s offense finally got untracked, at least in the second half, of a 37-24 win at Wilbur Cross with Nick van Dell throwing for 339 yards and four touchdowns, although the Tigers only led 10-6 at the half and by all accounts were fairly fortunate to do so. While the signs have gone up calling Wilbur Cross Athletic Complex’s main field “Barbarito/Marone Field”, it won’t be officially named in honor of Pete Barbarito and Horace Marone until Saturday’s game against East Haven … Xavier also kind of found its offense against Hamden behind sophomore running back Glenn Cunningham, who ran 17 times for 106 yards in the Falcons’ 30-7 win. But it was only 13-7 at the half. In two games – both at Palmer Field – Xavier has been flagged for more than 200 yards in penalties … Chris Kanios did not play football last year for Shelton, but perhaps enticed by the new black helmets, returned this season, and – now a junior – caught two first-quarter TD passes as Shelton rolled past Amity 42-7. Unlike most teams here, it will likely take until Week 5 at Fairfield Prep until it is tested … Tyler Selmecki was pressed into duty as Sheehan’s quarterback due to injury, but threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, although it ended in a 42-35 loss to Foran …Hillhouse did indeed play its 32-0 win over Jonathan Law at SCSU’s Jess Dow Field and will play there for the rest of this season (and hopefully beyond until Bowen Field is ready) … Zach DeGoursey’s third-quarter touchdown against Wilton at least means Branford has scored this season, but the Hornets’ 34-7 defeat means they’ve been outscored 80-7 this season … Remember, most of the games are on Thursday this week due to Yom Kippur … If you haven’t yet, follow me on Twitter at @currenscc.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Andrew Yamin, Cheshire – For the second time in three weeks, Yamin wins this honor and with good cause. Largely a straight-ahead runner last season, Yamin ran for 230 yards and four touchdowns on 20 carries in Cheshire’s win over West Haven. His stats thus far this season might shatter SCC fantasy records (if there was such a thing): 671 yards on 51 carries (a cool 13.2 per carry) and 10 TDs. There’s still eight games left in the regular season.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Number of undefeated teams remaining in the SCC (Shelton, Xavier, Cheshire). Unfortunately (or fortunately, I guess, if you’re into the SCC getting more playoff berths (overrated, in my opinion), Cheshire plays neither Xavier nor Shelton this season (they do play Southington in Thanksgiving, however). Shelton travels to Palmer Field to take on Xavier on Nov. 7, but more than a few teams stand in the way of that being an undefeated showdown.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Hand at North Haven, Thursday, 7 p.m. – If you’re scoring North Haven injuries at home, Mike Montano and Jake Kastenhuber played in the Indians’ 48-14 rout of East Haven, while Cole Pecora did not. North Haven hopes to be at full strength for Hand on Thursday night, as do the Tigers who might have Tommy Wilson in the backfield as well for this one. These two teams have developed a rivalry recently, although it’s been mostly one-sided. Might this be the one win Division II can hang their hats on at season’s end?
- 1) Cheshire (3-0; Last Week 6) – Up five spots to the top in just one week? Well, did you see them play? Yikes.
- 2) Shelton (3-0; LW 1) – Taking care of business, at least. Have to have at least one eye on Prep by now.
- 3) Fairfield Prep (2-1; LW 2) – Looked much more like selves last week, but toughest stretch is coming up.
- 4) Xavier (3-0; LW 5) – Not exactly scaring future opponents thus far, but they’ll take the zero in the loss column.
- 5) West Haven (2-1; LW 3) – Have to be worried about ease in which their line was pushed around by Cheshire.
- 6) Hand (2-1; LW 4) – Will take the road win, and would love to have Tommy Wilson back for North Haven.
- 7) North Haven (2-1; LW 8) – Probably have a better shot than most would have thought to win this week.
- 8) Notre Dame (1-2; LW 7) – Looking suspiciously like last year’s story thus far for Green Knights.
- 9) Wilbur Cross (2-1; LW 9) – If they’re going to throw the ball 46 times, might want to invest in some lights.
- 10) Hillhouse (1-2; LW 10) – Had a decent crowd at SCSU, and should again for Friday night against Xavier.
- 11) Amity (1-2; LW 12) – Would like to win this week. And then? Division I powerhouses await every week.
- 12) Hamden (1-2; LW 14) – Defense actually looked very good against Xavier. Have to beat Law, don’t they?
- 13) Foran (1-2; LW 11) – Almost let Sheehan game slip away, which leaves some questions about defense.
- 14) East Haven (1-2; LW 15) – North Haven proved to be a much stiffer test than Hamden was week before.
- 15) Guilford (1-2; LW 13) – Got into the win column against Lyman Hall behind 224 yards rushing from Jack Jankura.
- 16) Sheehan (0-3; LW 16) – Still look feisty, which could produce dividends later on in the campaign.
- 17) Lyman Hall (0-3; LW 18) – Doesn’t look like things will get too much better this week, but long way to go.
- 18) Branford (0-2; LW 17) – Tough to see them breaking long losing streak with Prep arriving this week.
- 19) Jonathan Law (0-3; LW 19) – Unfortunately, Hamden’s defense has looked very good this season.