Hillhouse High from New Haven scored three touchdowns in the third quarter to overcome a 21-20 halftime deficit and defeat St. Joseph, 42-21, in the Class M state championship football game played at Ken Strong Stadium in West Haven on Saturday.
“They are explosive,” St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia said. “Ironically the third quarter has been our best quarter all year, we’ve only given up thirteen points. They are so fast and explosive.
“We did the best we can filling lanes, it was a matter of time before they were going to break a couple. We were just hoping it wouldn’t be too many.”
The Academics out of the SCC finished its season at 12-1. It’s Hillhouse’s sixth state title and first since 2012.
The Cadets from the FCIAC closed at 10-3. St. Joseph is 12-3 in title game appearances.
Hillhouse went 64 yards with the second half kickoff and scored on the fifth play of the drive when Matt Brehon followed a 43-yard carry with a 1-yard touchdown run. Damien Henderson found John Gartner for the two-point conversion and a 28-21 lead.
The Academic’s defense forced a three-and-out, and Brehon tacked on a 50-yard TD run with 6:11 left in the third quarter.
A 5-8, 185-pound senior, Brehon finished the game with 231 yards rushing on 23 carries.
St. Joseph had another empty possession, culminating in a bad snap on the punt that gave Hillhouse the ball at the Cadets’ 13-yard line.
David Harris darted 10 yards to pay dirt on the second play. Byron Breland’s PAT took the score to 42-21 at the 3:18 mark of the third period.
St. Joseph had only two first downs in the second half — a 20-yard pass from Cory Babineau to Jaden Shirden with three minutes left in the third and a Jared Mallozzi 16-yard reception on the next to last play of the game.
Della Vecchia said, “The end of the first two drives, not moving the chains and then them scoring puts you in a hole and (after that) we weren’t able to do what we want to do.
“Our special teams have been strong all year, we give up a kickoff return, we fumble the punt that’s fourteen points right here. That’s kind of uncharacteristic, and they capitalized on it. Its part of the game.”
The Cadet defense, led by Adam Derbyshire and Jude Andrzejewski, held the Acs to 11 yards of offense on their first two possessions.
A Cadet fumble after a completed pass stopped St. Joseph at the Hillhouse 36.
Two plays later, Harris took a toss play around the left end for a 69-yard touchdown. Breland’s kick made it 7-0 with 5:38 remaining in the first quarter.
St. Joseph answered with a 55-yard, nine-play drive.
Shirden ran for six yards behind the blocking of David Veeley, Jesse Veilleux, Robert Mihaly, Nick Crocco and Alec Pelletier. Babineau completed a 14-yarder to Jesse Bike and then kept the ball for a 17-yard gain to the Acs’ 18-yard line.
On 4th-and-15, Ryan Donegan hauled in a 19-yard pass from Babineau for a first down at the four.
Shirden, who gained 78 yards, scored two plays later on 1-yard blast. Luke Kirby’s extra-point kick tied the game at 7 with 2:58 left in the opening quarter.
Chase Kinsley returned the ensuing kickoff 91 yards to put Hillhouse back in the lead.
St. Joseph marched 50 yards to tie the game, with the key play being Phil Pasmeg’s tackle-breaking 23-yard catch-and-carry. Shirden scored again from a yard out on the third play of the second quarter.
St. Joseph forced a punt, but the ball was fumbled and Hillhouse took possession on the Cadet 20.
Shawn Ogarro score on the next play. The PAT failed, but Hillhouse had a 20-14 lead.
The Acs held St. Joseph on downs at their 36 and moved to the 10-yard line, where Mike DiIorio separated Behon from the ball and Andrzejewski recovered on the nine.
The Cadets went 91-yards in 11 plays with Shirden scoring his third 1-yard TD.
Mallozzi had receptions from Babineau, who was 15 of 28 passing for 236 yards, worth 21 and 34 yards.
The second catch found him drag a tackler an extra eight yards.
On 3rd-and-8 from the 17, Pasmeg caught a pass for an 11-yard gain to move the chains.
Hillhouse threatened to retake the lead in the final 1:22 of the half, but gave the ball up on downs at the St. Joseph 22 with 15 seconds remaining.