Abdul-Basir's record-setter carries Cadets to final

Mufasa Abdul-Basir rushed for a school-record 268 yards, and in doing so helped the St. Joseph High football team earn a berth in the program’s first FCIAC title game with a 42-35 victory over Brien McMahon at Jack Casagrande Field in Norwalk on Friday night.

St. Joseph (9-1) will play New Canaan (10-0) at 7 p.m. on Friday for the league title at Trumbull High’s McDougall Stadium.

“Mufasa is a hard runner, he is strong and he is shifty,” said Cadet coach Joe Della Vecchia, whose team also secured a spot in the Class S state playoffs. “He wants the ball and is a huge part of our team’s success.”

Abdul-Basir ran for a 20-yard score — his fourth touchdown of the game — and Kevin Bortnick’s PAT gave St. Joseph a 42-35 lead with 7:42 remaining.

McMahon drove to a first down on the Cadets’ 23-yard line on its next possession, but off play-action, St. Joseph linebacker Dylan Ryan intercepted Senator quarterback Matt Downey’s pass in the flat with 4:29 on the clock.

“The wing came out, and the motion guy came to my side, so I dropped into coverage and he tried to get it over the top of me,” Ryan said of the critical pass interception on a pass intended for Matthieu Hargrove.

With possession at their 15, the Cadets gave the ball to Abdul-Basir the next seven snaps.

The 5-9, 165-pound junior followed the blocking of Tom Adzima, Troy Vazzano, Peter Mestre, Mike Schuchman and Chris Taylor and gained 64 yards on seven carries, before quarterback Jordan Vazzano took a knee the last two plays.

Abdul-Basir scored on a three-yard run to open the scoring at the 8:14 mark of the first quarter. Bortnick tacked on the PAT.

McMahon answered two series later, when Timothy Hinton followed a 67-yard pass play with an eight-yard run. Niko Petridis made the conversion kick with 3:56 left in the opening period.

The Cadets went 64 yards in 10 plays on its next possession, with Jordan Vazzano throwing a nine-yard touchdown pass to Lars Pedersen on a fourth-and-eight play. Bortnick’s PAT made it 14-7 with 5.8 seconds on the clock in the quarter.

McMahon used Malik Whitaker’s 34-yard kickoff return to spark a 47-yard drive to tie the score at 14 on Hinton’s 31-yard run at the 9:38 mark of the second period.

Abdul-Basir started the next series with a 37-yard run, and ended it with a two-yard touchdown run, for a 21-14 lead midway through the quarter.

Petridis was short with a 40-yard field goal try, and after Mark Hirschbeck’s booming 44-yard punt, and a stout defensive series, Pedersen returned a punt 28 yards to the McMahon 14 with 30.8 left in the half.

Jordan Vazzano threw to Abdul-Basir for 11 yards and then connected with Hirschbeck for the three-yard score with 17.9 ticks left. The PAT failed, but St. Joseph had a 27-14 lead at the half.

McMahon dominated the third quarter, taking the kickoff and going 96 yards on eight plays before Ken Keen scored from three yards out.

After an empty possession by St. Joseph, the Senators put together an 88-yard scoring drive, with Kentrell Snider finishing things with a five-yard run.

Petridis’ fourth straight PAT gave the Senators a 28-27 lead with 2:35 left in the third quarter.

Limited to three plays thus far in the half, the Cadets made the next two snaps count, as Abdul-Basir ran for 20 and then 39 yards to find the end zone.

Jordan Vazzano passed to Joey Civitella for the two-point conversion for a 35-28 lead with 1:58 to play in the third period.

McMahon kept rolling here, going 59 yards in nine plays before Downey threw a 19-yard scoring pass to David Daniel to tie the game at 35 with 9:16 remaining.

St. Joseph then went 61 yards in five plays to take the lead for good.