Prep has no room for error against Xavier

Emotions were riding high for Fairfield Prep after its 38-28 win at Shelton in Week 5. The Jesuits were positioning themselves deeper among the state’s contenders — 4-1 and eighth in the Top 10 poll — and further away from a stunning, last-second loss to St. Joseph off a Hail Mary.

Yet, all the momentum gained in one week quickly vanished the next.

In Week 6, the Jesuits limped through a turnover-plagued, mistake-filled 35-27 loss at Daniel Hand. They whiffed on their chance to join the state’s elite. Instead, they were relegated to a logjam of good, but not great teams.

“The misery trumped the goodness,” coach Tom Shea said, after Prep spotted Hand a 22-point halftime lead by allowing fumble and kickoff returns for touchdowns.

Suddenly, the Jesuits were 4-2, dropped from the state’s rankings. They were teetering on the edge of the playoff picture with no room for error with five games left. Want proof? In three years since the CIAC adopted the eight-school playoff format, no team has made the Class LL field with more than two losses.

Next up were games against Cheshire, Amity and Hamden (teams with a combined 11-16 record entering this week). They responded, outscoring those squads by a combined 112-40.

Now 7-2, Prep sits 12th in Class LL with 103.33 power points, behind four other two-loss squads. One of those teams – three-time defending state champion Xavier, seventh in the standings at 7-2 – visits the Jesuits Saturday (7 p.m.) in a virtual elimination game.

The Falcons — who play only nine regular-season games instead of 10 after the cancellation of their Thanksgiving rivalry with Middletown – will either prep or sit at home for the postseason after this week. This year’s Falcons team hasn’t been nearly as explosive as some of its predecessors, but it’s certainly dangerous. Shea knows it.

“They’ve got everything you need to be a great team,” Shea said.

The Falcons weren’t anything great last week, down 12-0 to Shelton after three quarters. But thanks to a 98-yard drive, capped by quarterback Joe Carbone’s 9-yard touchdown run with nine seconds left, the Falcons rallied from the abyss to a 15-12 win. They’ve won three straight and six of their last seven.

But while they still possess plenty of firepower – led by tailback Andrew Meoli’s 1,246 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on 162 carries – the Jesuits have their own weapon in dual-threat quarterback Colton Smith. A junior, Smith has rushed for 768 yards and 16 touchdowns to go with his 1,020 passing yards.

“He’s been magnificent,” Shea said. “Our expectation from the beginning is that he would be a very good quarterback.”

The Jesuits, who close the regular season on Thanksgiving against 8-1 West Haven, can’t afford another misstep. Not this week. There’s only one unbeaten left in LL (10-0 Newtown) and six one-loss teams, but there won’t be room for much more than that. Still, despite all the scenarios at play, Shea says the Jesuits’ focus is first on winning their division.

“That’s been the focus. If we do that,” Shea said, “then maybe there’s a possibility for something more and special.”

Regardless, there’s no room for error.