Notre Dame-West Haven football holds off Law in Class M semifinal behind defense, Staton

WEST HAVEN – Looking to protect a one touchdown lead with just over two minutes to play in regulation, Notre Dame senior Cooper Torrey was locked in on Law quarterback John Neider’s eyes. Torrey’s read proved to be the biggest play of the year for the Green Knights.

Dropping into coverage during what appeared to be a Neider run, Torrey intercepted Neider in the endzone with 1 minute, 56 seconds remaining as second-seeded Notre Dame held on for a 28-14 victory over third-seeded Jonathan Law in the Class M semifinals at Veterans Field in West Haven Sunday afternoon.

“I saw him (Neider) run, then hesitate, and I saw his friend go towards a touchdown, so I knew it was going to be a pop play,” Torrey said. “I just knew I had to pick it. He kind of underthrew it, so I had to make the play.”

With the victory, Notre Dame will play top-seeded Berlin, a 42-7 winner over Rockville, on Saturday at either Rentschler Field or Central Connecticut. Times and sites for each class will be released this week.

“We have heard about their offense, 49 points a game, and nobody said anything about our defense,” Notre Dame coach Joe DeCaprio said after his team improved to 9-3. “Our defense has been playing tremendous the whole entire season. We feel like we are overlooked on defense. The kid (Neider) is unbelievable.

"He is unreal. We corralled him the best we could, and the defense came up big. Cooper Torrey with the interception, and we have in my opinion, the best player (Jacob Staton) in the state that plays for us. He proved it in the fourth quarter.”  

Torrey’s play came after Notre Dame quarterback Matthew Piechota found Jacob Staton for a 73-yard touchdown reception to give the Green Knights a 21-14 lead with 4:19 remaining in the fourth quarter.

“We ran the play earlier, and I was unguarded,” Staton said. “I said we should go back to it, and I was wide open.”

Neider, who accounted for 410 of Law’s 423 yards of offense was not going to let Law’s magical season end just yet. After a pair of incompletions, Neider ran 12 yards for a first down, then hit Matt Hagerty for 50 yards to the Notre Dame 7 yard line. 

Two plays later, Neider pulled back from the line after an apparent rush and attempted a jump pass for the potential game-tying score, but Torrey reacted with a one-handed grab for an interception.

“These kids showed what they are capable of,” Law coach Chris Haley said after his team finished the year 10-2. “It was a really, really impressive performance. I thought we played incredible. I am really proud of them. They played Tier I football with Tier 3 size, Tier 3 athleticism, and Tier 3 speed if that matters. They played Tier I football today, and it was a great job.”  

The Green Knights put the game away two plays later when Staton raced in from 75 yards out for a touchdown and 28-14 lead with 1:56 to go.

“The first half, we came out flat and played like trash,” Staton said. “We were still in the game. We kept our heads up. In the second half, we came out, had a good audible at the end. We talked about the wheel. As you could see, it was wide open. I couldn’t do it without my O-Line either. They were opening up the holes.” 

The two late scores by Notre Dame, coupled with the defensive stands of the Green Knights, overcame three turnovers by the Green Knights in the contest.

“Our defense, I feel like, has been one of the best defenses in the state all year,” Torrey said. “We have a bunch of dogs out there. He (Neider) is a great quarterback. He is a great player. We knew we had to come in and stop him. That was the way to slow down their offense.”

Notre Dame looked as if it would roll through the first half with the running of Staton, who ran for 125 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the first 24 minutes alone, and finished with 247 yards and three scores on the ground. 

Law battled, and behind a pair of Neider touchdown passes, went to the half even at 14.

Despite allowing 224 yards of Notre Dame offense in the first half, Law’s defense also caused three turnovers on a pair of interceptions and a fumble recovery with all coming in Law territory. 

Staton got the Green Knights on the scoreboard with a 13-yard touchdown run with 6:44 left in the opening quarter to cap a 6-play, 79-yard drive.

Law responded by needing just six plays to move 78 yards. Neider worked his magic in the air, with his final pass of the drive a 53-yard scoring connection to Hagerty with 5:00 left in the opening quarter. Notre Dame blocked the extra point, keeping the Green Knights on top 7-6. 

The Green Knights appeared to be headed for another scoring drive, but Law’s Michael Merchant came up with the first interception of the game for Law. 

“We told them all along we were not going to shut this team down,” Haley said. “The kid (Staton) is averaging seven yards a carry. We did a great job making some adjustments in the game. The kids took to it and played their tails off.” 

The Lawmen had a golden opportunity to take the lead, but Neider’s pass on third down sailed over the head of a wide-open Sam Costantini. The defense for Law came up big again on the ensuing possession on a Michael Smith interception, but Law could not cash in.

The game then saw a pair of touchdowns in the final 1:33 of the opening half. Staton capped a 54-yard drive with a 12-yard score for a 14-6 lead, but Law needed just 1:07 to send the game to the half even at 14.

Neider had runs of 20 and 13 yards, before hitting Charlie Becker with a 29-yard touchdown pass. Neider ran in the conversion with 26.5 seconds left in the half to even the game at 14.

Along with throwing for 226 yards, Neider ran for 184 yards in the loss for Law. Piechota finished 9-of-16 for 168 yards and a touchdown in the win for Notre Dame.]

Player of the Game

Jacob Staton – Notre Dame senior ran for 247 yards and scored three touchdowns on the ground, while also adding a 73-yard scoring reception.


“We kind of saved it. My quarterback said hey let’s try to wheel them up the sideline on it. I don’t love the play because I like him (Staton) in pass protection, but we wheeled them up and Matt (Piechota), who is battling the flu himself, hit him.”
Notre Dame coach Joe DeCaprio on game-winning score

Notre Dame-West Haven 28, Law 14

JONATHAN LAW                            6   8   0    0 — 14
NOTRE DAME-WEST HAVEN     7   7   0  14 — 28
N – Jacob Staton 13 run (Davin Garamella kick) 6:44
L – Matt Hagerty 53 pass from John Neider (Kick blocked) 5:00
N – Jacob Staton 12 run (Davin Garamella kick) 1:33
L – Charlie Becker 29 pass from John Neider (John Neider run) 0:26
N- Jacob Staton 73 pass from Matthew Piechota (Davin Garamella kick) 4:19
N – Jacob Staton 75 run (Davin Garamella kick) 1:56
Records: L: 10-2. N: 9-3