NEW BRITAIN >> Aggressive, stout and relentless are just a few ways to describe the Windsor defense.
Add opportunistic to that list.
The Warriors scored on an interception return and a fumble recovery and forced three other turnovers in a 38-16 victory over Notre Dame-West Haven in the Class L-Small state championship game Saturday at Arute Field on the campus of Central Connecticut State.
It is the first state title for top-seeded Windsor, which finished 12-0. Windsor had previously lost in the Class L championship in 2002 and 2012.
“It means a lot to me, and it means a lot to the town,” Windsor coach Rob Fleeting said. “We have so much support in our town. I really wanted to do this for the town of Windsor because they’ve been very supportive of me, my family, our coaching staff and our kids. It means the world to me right now.”
Senior Eric Vinson returned an interception 69 yards and junior Tyler Coyle returned a fumble 89 yards for touchdowns for the Warriors, ranked sixth in the Register Top 10 Poll.
“This means so much,” Coyle said. “This shows that anything’s possible. We finally did it for the town of Windsor.”
Trailing 19-8 in the third quarter, Notre Dame quarterback Christian Lupoli connected with Nico Ragaini on a 53-yard touchdown pass for third-seeded Notre Dame. Ragaini also caught the two-point conversion pass to cut the Windsor lead to 19-16.
But the rally attempt was short-lived as Vinson and Coyle scored within a six-minute span later in the quarter to put the Warriors up 31-16. Hunter Burns appeared to have dropped a pass from Lupoli, but the referees ruled it a completion and a fumble.
“I was nervous at first,” Coyle said. “I knew the ball was on the ground, but I didn’t know if it was a fumble or not. I grabbed it with one hand, bobbled it around a little bit, but I had to stay with it. I saw daylight, and I just had to take it to the crib.”
Said Notre Dame coach Tom Marcucci: “That was a tough one. We were right down there on the 9-yard line. Those things hurt it. A little bit uncharacteristic. We really haven’t turned the ball over this year that much, and they brought them both back, which hurt us.”
Windsor senior quarterback John Nolan (9 of 15, 165 yards) threw two touchdown passes to Coyle and one to Courtney Rush in the first half. Coyle’s 18-yard touchdown catch gave the Warriors a 19-0 lead with 8:15 left in the second quarter. Coyle finished with five receptions for 64 yards.
Lupoli threw a 6-yard touchdown to Burns to put Notre Dame on the board in the second quarter. Lupoli finished 19 of 47 for 156 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Ragaini caught seven passes for 83 yards.
Notre Dame (9-4) was denied its fourth title.
“I thought we battled back,” Marcucci said. “We couldn’t spot them that many points to start out, and then it was an uphill battle from there.”
Jordan Knight’s 65-yard touchdown run with 3:56 left was Windsor’s only offensive touchdown of the second half. Knight rushed 11 times for 101 yards while fellow junior Bennie Fulse gained 118 yards on 16 carries.
“I thought our defense really shut them down in the second (half),” Marcucci said. “They got that last one, but the defense shut them down in the second half. Really from the second quarter on we held them. They’re very talented athletically. I thought my guys played good. I thought they played hard the whole way, never quit. It’s unfortunate, all those turnovers in the second half.”
Windsor 38, Notre Dame-West Haven 16
|Class L-Small Final||1||2||3||4||F|
W—Tyler Coyle 20 pass from John Nolan (Eric Foster kick)
W—Courtney Rush 67 pass from John Nolan (kick blocked)
W—Tyler Coyle 18 pass from John Nolan (run failed)
N—Hunter Burns 6 pass from Christian Lupoli (Lupoli run)
N—Nico Ragaini 53 pass from Christian Lupoli (Ragaini pass from Lupoli)
W—Eric Vinson 69 int ret (kick blocked)
W—Tyler Coyle 89 fumb ret (run failed)
W—Jordan Knight 65 run (Foster kick)
Team records: Windsor 12-0; Notre Dame-West Haven 9-4
RUSHING—ND, Christian Lupoli 16-70; Nico Ragaini 2-19; Josh Witkowsky 3-13; Prince Brooks 4-6; Windsor, Bennie Fulse 16-118; Jordan Knight 11-101; Gabriel Elliot 3-22; Isaiah Huff 1-5.
PASSING—ND, Christian Lupoli 19-47-256-2-3. Windsor, John Nolan 9-15-165-3-2.
RECEIVING—ND, Nico Ragaini 7-83; Hunter Burns 5-11; Josh Witkowsky 3-27; Jonathan Aceto 2-19; Windsor, Tyler Coyle 5-64; Courtney Rush 3-90; Aaron Bell 1-11.