The St. Joseph football team will be playing on Saturday to win a third state championship in the last four years.
The No. 5 seed Cadets gave up an early third-quarter touchdown to No. 1 seed Valley Regional/Old Lyme at Blythe Field in Deep River, before roaring back to score 28 unanswered points in a 28-7 win over the Warriors in a CIAC Class M semifinal round game on Monday night.
St. Joseph, 10-2, will take on No. 4 seed Hillhouse, a 49-28 winner over Killingly, in a 10:30 a.m. match-up on Saturday at West Haven’s Ken Strong Field.
“This win was a contribute to our kids,” said St. Joe’s coach Joe Della Vecchia. “We didn’t play a very good first half. We missed a field goal, turned the ball over in close and should’ve had a pass completed for a touchdown. But these guys never hung their heads. They just came out in the second half and went to work. I think eventually we wore them down.”
Neither team played that well through the first 24 minutes. Valley Regional quarterback Matt Sapere had only four first-half completions and threw an interception on a 2nd-and-9 situation from the Cadets’ 13-yard line.
Sapere redeemed himself on the Warriors’ opening drive of the second half.
Taking over on their own 35, Daniel Strecher picked up a yard before Sapere launched a 66-yard touchdown pass down the left sideline to Jason O’Brien. The extra-point kick gave Valley (10-2) a 7-0 lead with just 51 seconds gone by.
On the following series, St. Joe’s quarterback Cory Babineau got his team going. Babineau (16-of-29 passing for 240 yards and two scores) closed out a nine-play, 60-yard drive with a 21-yard completion to Jarod Mallozzi. Luke Kirby’s conversion kick tied the game at 7 at the 7:17 mark.
The game then turned on the Warriors’ next possession.
Faced with a 4th-and-17 at their own 35, Sapere’s punt was blocked by Mike Dilioro and returned to the Valley 13. Four plays later, freshman running back Jaden Shiren punched it in from the five, giving the Cadets a 14-7 lead.
Valley again turned the ball over on its next series as a big hit on Sapere by Alec Pelletier forced a fumble, which Jude Andrzejewski recovered on the Warriors’ 13-yard line. It only took the Cadets four plays to score as Andrzejewski got the call from the one. A successful conversion kick by Kirby gave St. Joe’s a 21-7 lead with under a minute left in the third quarter.
Babineau closed out the scoring for the Cadets when he hooked up with Mallozzi again, this time from 21 yards out with 7:17 left in the game.
Mallozzi led all Cadets’ receivers with five catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns.
St. Joe’s piled up 379 yards of offense and allowed only 240 and just 58 on the ground.
“The mistakes just killed us tonight,” said Valley coach Tim King. “We gave them good field position twice on turnovers and you can’t allow a team which is as good as St. Joe’s those types of opportunities. We hung with them for a half and then got that lead. After that, things didn’t work out for us.”
St. Joe’s will go after a 13th state title on Saturday.
“At the beginning of the season I thought we’d be lucky if we finished with a five hundred record,” Della Vecchia said. “These kids have sure surprised me. It’s unbelievable.”