Coaches love to see their teams fire well-rounded performances at their opposition on Game Day. They like to see a crisp offense execute their carefully crafted game plan, move the ball consistently and strike for a big play here and there. They want strong kick coverage and productive returns. Above else, they want a defense to pursue the ball, force turnovers, win the battles on the line and not give up big yardage on third down. But poll them all and nearly every high school football coach will pick tight, aggressive defense over the productive offense and sharp special teams play.
Nothing scientific about Fairfield Prep’s defense on Friday night in a 26-0 win over Cheshire at Fairfield U. Forget about how wise the plan was and how few penalties the defense was guilty of. That’s not important. In a battle of brawn, between two teams not to be confused with Pop Warner squads, Prep outmuscled the Rams, which was the key in pitching the shutout.
The Jesuits linemen were not pushed off the ball. Few sizeable holes were opened up for Rams’ running backs Jack Cunningham and Andrew Yamin, a pair of juniors. They had to squirm and fight for every yard they could muster. For more often than not, the Jesuits line, led by Tony Fox and Anthony Palazolla — who between them average 6-foot-4 and 278 pounds — drove the Rams’ offensive lineman back after the intial surge, and Prep made plenty of tackles in the backfield.
Prep’s defense took care of its responsibilities but foremost in inspiring the shutout was their ability to win the one-on-one battles on the line. With the line play setting the tone, the linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks were able to do their things. The end result was a defense working in harmony, playing in sync and leaving the scoreboard reading “0” at game’s start in a pristine state throughout.
“They have excellent backs,” Jesuits coach Tom Shea said about Jack Cunningham (11 carries for 60 yards) and Andrew Yamin (10 rushes for 53 yards). But they weren’t too productive against Prep. They weren’t given much space in which to operate. And when there was contact by Prep defense, the two ball-carriers weren’t greeted with love-taps. This was no exercise in tactics and skill. It was old-fashioned country ball or a sandlot pickup game with the last team standing declared the winner.
Prep didn’t dominate because Cheshire is no push-over.
“We played well in the first half,” Rams coach Don Drust said. “We did some good things.” Of the 113 combined yards by Cunningham and Yamin for the game, a total of 74 (nearly two-thirds) came in the first half. “My kids played hard,” Drust said. “That’s all I can ask of them. We’ll look at the film and see what we did wrong, and we’ll fix the mistakes.”
On Friday night against the Jesuits, there really was nothing to fix. No coach can repair a disadvantage in height, weight and muscle and in technique by the big boys from Prep.