STRATFORD — It was a contrast in styles.
Stratford, which is made up of talented albeit youthful players, took on a more experienced and skillful Notre Dame of Fairfield side in Friday’s SWC football season-opener and the latter had the edge in what resulted in a 41-25 victory at Penders Field.
“We didn’t get the result we wanted but we have a lot of young guys on the field who were playing in their first varsity game,” Stratford head coach Jack Petion said. “I think they responded well to adverse situations, but they still made some key mistakes that led to points. We’re going to shake this off and try to get this where we need to be.”
The Red Devils went toe-to-toe with the Lancers in the first half, trailing only 20-17, but Notre Dame scored on three of its next four possessions in the second to pull away with the win.
The Lancers’ opening drive of the third quarter used up close to eight minutes and they converted two fourth-down plays during the drive, the first with a fake punt run for the first down by senior QB John Fassett and the second on a fourth-and-goal with Fassett finding Daniel Finizio on a screen pass for a 6-yard score to put Notre Dame up 27-17 (4:06).
“It’s one of those dagger plays that’s kind of a game-changer,” Notre Dame head coach John Johnson said of the fake punt. “They thought they had us stopped but John made the correct read on that.”
Fassett was a thorn in the side of Stratford all night with 4 TDs (2 passing and 2 running).
With the Lancers ahead 20-7 with 11:47 remaining until halftime, the Red Devils scored the next 10 points to go into the half on a high note.
A four-play, 63-yard drive was capped by a 3-yard touchdown run from sophomore Sy’air James with 10:10 on the clock. James churned out 33 yards on the ground during the scoring push and Kaleb Lafontant chipped in with a 27-yard run.
“I was doing what I had to do, getting the job done and getting into the end zone,” James said. “We felt really good (going into halftime).”
Notre Dame answered and drove the length of the field before DB/QB Trey Lanham intercepted a Fassett pass in the end zone (3:45).
“It was a game changer,” Lanham said of the pick. “This was definitely a learning lesson. We have to work harder and not get down. We have to get better for next week.”
Lanham was able to direct his team on a 9 play, 66-yard drive that culminated in a 32-yard field goal from Nick Gonzalez with 1 second on the clock to give the home team a boost at intermission.
“It was exciting to see,” Petion said of the field goal. “I think that was the first field goal we’ve made in my three years here. That kept our spirits up (at halftime).”
Tristan Pena, a freshman, scored Stratford’s first TD of the season on an 85-yard kickoff return.
Lanham also found the end zone on a nifty 48-yard run down the left sideline with Lafontant adding the 2-point conversion run to cut Notre Dame’s lead to 34-25 with 4:02 left in the contest. The Red Devils failed to recover the onside kick and the Lancers capitalized with another score with 1:31 remaining in the game.
Getting behind early was tough for the Red Devils to overcome, Petion said, but his team never backed down.
“I’m proud of the way the kids fought,” Petion said. “They stayed excited throughout the game even though there were a few downs. There are a lot of positives to look at and some good things to come in the future.”
Stratford will look to get on track next week at Branford.
ND –Fairfield 41, Stratford 25
Notre Dame 14 6 7 14 — 41
Stratford 7 10 0 8 — 25
ND-Nathaniel Cole 3 run (Micah Whitaker kick)
S-Tristan Pena 85 kickoff return (Nicholas Gonzalez kick)
ND-John Fassett 3 run (Whitaker kick)
ND-Cole 11 pass from Fassett (kick failed)
S-Sy’air James 3 run (Gonzalez kick)
S-Gonzalez 32 FG
ND-Daniel Finizio 6 pass from Fassett (Whitaker kick)
ND-Fassett 6 run (Whitaker kick)
S-Trey Lanham 48 run (Kaleb Lafontant run)
ND-Jaidyn Cummings 20 run (Whitaker kick)
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