Cadets claim town trophy

The Thanksgiving Day match up between the St. Joseph High and Trumbull High football teams was expected to be a barn burner, but the Cadets’ defense had other ideas.

St. Joseph stifled the visiting Eagles, holding them to roughly 200 yards total offense for the first three quarters, while the Cadets’ rushing attack of Mufasa Abdul-Basir and Shane Miller dominated the field, combining for 407 of the Cadets’ 492 yards on the ground in a lopsided 61-26 win for the home team.

“Coming into the game, I thought we would score somewhere in the 50s and I thought they would score a lot more than they did — to be honest with you,” said St. Joseph High coach Joe Della Vecchia. “So, hats off to our defense. They did a great job shutting them down.”

The Cadets (10-2) wasted no time in showing their offensive firepower.

On the seventh play of the game, Abdul-Basir (21 carries for 251 yards) slipped through the Eagles defense and sprinted down the left sideline for a 41-yard touchdown.

Kevin Bortnick booted the first of six successful extra points to give St. Joseph a 7-0 lead roughly three minutes into the game.

Trumbull (8-3) looked to respond, as Marc Cesare (21 carries for 118 yards) burst through the line for an 18-yard gain on the Eagles’ first possession, but the Cadets’ defensive front line of Conrad Pischewitaski, Mike Schuchmann, Nick Colucci, Matt Laveneziana, Bortnick and Dylan Ryan bottled up Cesare on the next two runs.

Miller almost picked off a Nick Roberts pass attempt to force fourth down, and things went from bad to worse for the Eagles when a bobbled punt snap gave St. Joseph the ball at the Trumbull 45.

Cadets’ quarterback Jordan Vazzano (11-for-19 for 164 yards) connected with Mark Hirschbeck on a 43-yard pass to put the ball at the two-yard line.

The Trumbull defense mounted a rousing goal line stand, led by Quentin Brunetti who notched two solo tackles and teamed up with Jack Andrea to stop Abdul-Basir three times.

However, the Cadets offensive line of Chris Taylor, Troy Vazzano, Tom Adzima, Peter Mestre and Steve Hashemi got enough of a push to allow Jordan Vazzano to force his way into the end zone for a 14-0 lead with five minutes left in the second quarter.

After Pischewitaski and Laveneziana posted solid tackles to force another Trumbull three-and-out, the Cadets’ offense was on the move again with a grinding five-minute, 13-play drive that brought the ball to the Trumbull 14.

Jordan Vazzano led the charge with long completions to Hirschbeck and Lars Pedersen, and an electrifying 28-yard scramble, but the Trumbull defensive backfield of Liam Moore, Jamar Robinson, Nick DeRosa and Thomas Hayduk stopped the attack, forcing three straight incompletions to get the ball back on downs.

Unfortunately for the Eagles, the Cadets’ secondary of Miller, Darren Jackson, Pedersen and Abdul-Basir was just as good as they forced three straight incompletions.

The ensuing Trumbull punt caught the wind and only managed to make the Trumbull 33-yard line.

St. Joseph’s almost squandered the opportunity after a fumble and penalty moved them back to its 48, but Miller took a handoff and sprinted down the right sideline untouched for a 52-yard score that gave the hosts a 21-0 lead with roughly 11 minutes left in the half.

With their backs against the wall, the Eagles offense sprang to life.

Cesare pushed the ball to midfield behind solid blocking from the Trumbull front line of Phil Reardon, Cory Haslam, Greg Goldman, Zach Thompson and Jon Newland.

Roberts (17-for-31 for 186 yards) connected with Eric Anderson for a short gain and then took it himself on a two-yard scramble that kept the drive alive.

A trio of screen passes to Cesare moved the ball into the St. Joseph red zone.

Facing fourth-and-11, Roberts delivered a strike to Brunetti at the nine-yard line.

Two plays later, Brunetti slipped behind the Cadets’ secondary and Roberts lofted the ball to him at in the back of the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown.

A missed extra point attempt made the score 21-6 with four minutes left in the half.

The St. Joseph offense wasn’t going to let Trumbull make a game of it though.

Abdul-Basir scampered for 47 yards on the first play of the Cadets’ next possession, and Miller ran the remaining 18 yards on a replica of the Cadets’ previous touchdown to give St. Joseph a 22-6 lead.

“Shane is an outstanding runner,” Della Vecchia said. “We’ve used him here and there to run the ball, but we haven’t used him a lot. They couldn’t stop that play so we just kept on running it.”

The St. Joseph defense forced a three-and-out and Abdul-Basir again had the Cadets on the march with a 25-yard screen pass and runs of 18 yards and 14 yards to push the ball to the Trumbull six-yard line.

Jordan Vazzano rolled away from pressure on second down and delivered a dart to Hirschbeck in the end zone for a 33-6 St. Joseph lead with 41 seconds left in the half.

Trumbull looked to take some momentum into the half, but a bomb to Brunetti just missed the mark and another toss to the senior receiver in the back of the end zone was knocked down by Miller as time expired.

“We just didn’t play our best today,” said Trumbull High coach Bob Maffei. “It seemed like whenever we would get something going, we’d fumble or we’d drop a pass or something would happen. It just wasn’t our day today.”

Trumbull missed opportunity late in the first half became even more critical at the start of the second half when Cesare took the opening kickoff 85 yards for a score. A blocked kick by Hashemi held the score to 33-12.

St. Joseph made sure the momentum stayed firmly on its side on the next possession.

Abdul-Basir took the ball 54 yards on the first play from scrimmage, and then bounced out left to get the remaining nine yards for the score that gave the Cadets a 40-12 lead less than a minute into the second half.

The Cadets defense forced another three-and-out and a 12-yard strike from Jordan Vazzano to Hirschbeck on third-and-nine ignited the Cadets on a nine-play, 52-yard drive capped by a 24-yard run by Abdul-Basir that increase the St. Joseph’s lead to 47-12 with five minutes left in the quarter.

Trumbull drove deep into the Cadets’ territory, but a fumble at the 26-yard line was scooped up by Colucci.

Three plays later, Miller again burned the Eagles, this time with an 85-yard touchdown run for a 54-12 Cadets’ lead.

Miller tacked on another score when Jordan Vazzano found him open on an 18-yard fade early in the fourth quarter.

The impressive offensive showing by Miller earned him Cadet MVP honors for the game.

Cesare solidified his MVP award with touchdown runs of three yards and five yards in the final period.

For Maffei, the loss was a tough finish to a solid, bounce-back season for the Eagles.

“It’s a bittersweet ending, he said. “This team could have packed it in long ago after that Shelton debacle in our first game and they played very, very well.

“I have nothing but nice things to say about my players, my coaches and our fans. It’s been a wonderful year and it’s a shame it had to end this way.”

For Della Vecchia and the Cadets, the overwhelming win was just the thing the team needed to overcome the tough loss to New Canaan in the FCIAC final the previous Friday and get ready for the state tournament.

“Our number one goal this year was to get back into the state playoffs and go for that championship, so we’re excited about it,” he said. “We had a bitter taste from last year, so we are going to work real hard and go for it.

“I’m pleased with our kids’ effort today. They brought passion after a difficult week. They played their hearts out and to rebound and respond the way they did says a lot about their character.”