Notre Dame-West Haven rides defense, Piechota to Class M title over Berlin

EAST HARTFORD — With all the talk about his team’s offense, Notre Dame coach Joe DeCaprio has been trying to tell all who will listen about how good his defense is. DeCaprio does not need to try any longer.

Holding a previously undefeated Berlin team to just 109 yards of offense, 56 of which came on the final drive, the second-seeded Green Knights cruised to a 35-8 victory over top-seeded Berlin in the Class M final at Rentschler Field in East Hartford Saturday afternoon. 

“Coach Tim Furtak changed our defense over the summer,” DeCaprio said after his team improved to 10-3. “We installed this defense. He did an outstanding job.

"This is what I do on defense. I stay out of his way. The defense was all on him. The kids played very hard for us, and we were really good again today on defense.”  

The Green Knights outscored their opponents 105-22 in the three postseason games in picking up the fourth state championship in the history of the program and first since 2009 when Notre Dame topped Pomperaug in the Class L final.

“I am just really proud,” DeCaprio said. “These kids missed their sophomore year, and last year, we really thought we would be playing in this game. It didn’t work out for us obviously. Our kids have learned how to overcome adversity. We played in this type of game week in and week out. They have learned from last season. I could not be more proud of those kids."

Notre Dame was in control from start to finish and never looked as if it was in danger of losing in the title game. The Green Knights outgained Berlin 395-109 and were led by quarterback Matthew Piechota, who was 17-of-24 for 208 yards and three touchdowns. 

“Obviously, they are 12-0 and they have put a beating on a lot of teams,” Piechota said. “You knew you couldn’t take them lightly and for us, if we start with the ball, we know we have to put points on the board. Our defense has been electric all year. They really stepped it up from last year, and to have zero points for most of that game, is just unbelievable.”

Notre Dame was balanced throughout the contest on offense as Jacob Staton ran for 113 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. The Green Knights ran for 187 yards, controlling the time of possession from start to finish.

Berlin (1-9 in state title games) came into the contest averaging over 38 points per game in the first two games of the postseason, but the Notre Dame defense never let the Redcoats get on track. Berlin gained only 11 yards of offense in the first quarter and 53 in the half as the Green Knights built a 14-0 halftime lead.

“We couldn’t establish the middle, we couldn’t get to the outside and we weren’t throwing the ball well today,” Berlin coach Joe Aresimowicz said after his team fell to 12-1. “That puts you in a distinct disadvantage. The players over there are very good. Sometimes, the better team, you just tip your hat and say they were the better team. We didn’t play well and that didn’t help.” 

Trailing 14-0, Berlin needed to get going to start the second half. That never happened as the Notre Dame pressure forced an interception by Will Panza at the Notre Dame 47. 

The Green Knights then pounded the ball on the ground and chewed up the clock, taking 5:51 for Piechota to hit Matteao Petruzziello with a 13-yard touchdown pass and a 21-0 lead with 3:37 left in the third quarter. 

“We went into our pass coverage and I just saw it and made the play,” Panza said. “That’s a great team. We just came out and I thought we wanted it more.” 

After forcing a Berlin punt, the Green Knights needed just six plays to go 44 yards for a 28-0 lead when Staton scored his second touchdown of the game from 8 yards out early in the fourth quarter.

Piechota continued his brilliant day when he hit Petruzziello again with an 18-yard scoring strike on fourth down for a 35-0 lead with 5:15 remaining.

“I was just trusting my teammates,” Piechota said. “I wasn’t my best my last two games. I was bed-bound and sick all last week, so to come out here, I really wanted to put an emphasis on the end of the year and help contribute to a win. My teammates picked me up and made some great plays along the way.” 

Berlin scored its only touchdown of the game and had its best drive of the contest on the ensuing possession as Lorenzo Miele hit Josh Grimm with a 34-yard touchdown strike with 2:47 to go.   

The Green Knights completely dominated play in the opening half in every facet of the game. Not only did Notre Dame own the lead at 14-0 and time of possession, but the Green Knights outgained the Redcoats 241-53 in yards and 36-21 in plays from scrimmage.

“It’s huge to turn around from 3-7 to 7-3,” Panza said. “To then win three straight and win the state championship, that means everything to the school and our program.”

The Green Knights proved to be their only challenge to themselves with penalties and missed opportunities keeping the lead from being even larger. 
After both teams failed to score on their first two possessions, the Green Knights took a 6-0 lead, using four plays to go 50 yards, capped when

Piechota hit Ralph Sarno with an 18-yard touchdown reception as time expired in the opening quarter. 
Berlin looked to get their first points on the board, but Dominick Basti picked off a Miele pass at the Notre Dame 31. 

Piechota found his rhythm on the drive, connecting on passes of 17, 10, and 24 yards, before Staton capped the 9-play drive with a statement run of 10 yards with 6:36 remaining in the half. Piechota then hit Robert Torres with the conversion pass for a 14-0 advantage.

Player of the Game

Matthew Piechota, Notre Dame: The senior threw for 208 yards and three touchdowns on 17-of-24 passing to lead the Green Knights to their first state title since 2009.


“They are a great team. We played really well. Our quarterback (Piechota) played really well. Our offensive line does not get enough credit. (Jacob) Staton gets all the yards, but they are really as tough as they come. I’m happy for our coaches. We were super prepared for this game.” -- Notre Dame coach Joe DeCaprio 

Notre Dame-West Haven 35, Berlin 8

NOTRE DAME-WEST HAVEN      6 8 7 14—35
BERLIN                                              0 0 0  8 — 8
ND—Ralph Sarno 19 pass Matthew Piechota (kick failed)
ND—Jacob Staton 10 run (Robert Torres pass Piechota)
ND—Matteao Petruzziello 13 pass Piechota (Davin Garamella kick)
ND—Staton 8 run (Garamella kick)
ND—Petruzziello 18 pass Piechota (Garamella kick)
B—Josh Grimm 34 pass Lorenzo Miele (Kyle Melville pass Miele)
Records: Notre Dame-West Haven 10-3; Berlin 12-1.


RUSHING — Notre Dame-W.H., Jacob Staton 23-94; Matthew Piechota 10-59; Jonathan Evans 4-28, Robert Torres 1-3; William Panza 1-0. Berlin, Josh Clement 9-34, Lorenzo Miele 5-8, Toby Lavender 4-14, Luke Maguder 3-4, Kyle Melville 1-1.

PASSING — Notre Dame-W.H., Piechota 17-25-0-221. Berlin, Miele 6-15-2-40, Lavender 1-1-0-9.

RECEIVING — Notre Dame-W.H., Robert Torres 6-52, Petruzziello 4-65, Staton 4-42, William Panza 3-44, Ralph Sarno 1-18. Berlin, Maguder 2-0, Josh Grimm 1-34, Miele 1-9, Ryan Lavender 1-6, Elijah Santos 1-1, Mason Memery 1-(-1).