Cadets enjoy wet and wild final

For the St. Joseph High football team, state championships seem to come in bunches.

The Cadets improved on their ever-growing need to collect title trophies last Saturday morning in the cold and snow at Central Connecticut State University’s Arute Field with a 54-16 defeat of Brookfield High.

With a Class M championship in their hands, it marked the third time in the past five years that coach Joe Della Vecchia’s Cadets have been victorious.

Between 1980 and 1990, a span of 11 years, St. Joseph won eight championships.

Their current total of 11 ties them with Daniel Hand of Madison for second all-time behind Ansonia which claimed its 19th crown on Dec. 13.

For the Cadet seniors, it was redemption for a 34-14 loss to Hillhouse High in a snow-laden 2012 quarterfinal round contest.

“I promised my teammates, especially the seniors, that I wasn’t going to let that happen again,” said Cadet senior quarterback Jordan Vazzano, who threw for four touchdowns while completing 5-of-7 passes for 168 yards.

“It was good today,” Vazzano remarked about the 14-degree weather conditions. “They kept dry balls in the game; the visibility wasn’t all that bad, and my receivers ran really good routes.”

St. Joseph (13-2) took the opening drive 62 yards to score on eight plays, when junior running back Mufasha Abdul Basir punched it in from three yards out with 3:58 left in the opening quarter.

Abdul Basir, who added the two-point conversion run for an 8-0 lead, would go on to score three touchdowns in rushing for 166 yards on 19 carries (an average of 8.7 per attempt).

“The conditions didn’t bother me,” he said. “I prefer running in the snow and rain. It’s kinda fun jumping around and sliding in the snow. It does make you work harder though.”

While Basir was gaining traction, his offensive line of seniors Tom Adzima, Peter Mestre, Steve Hashemi, along with juniors Troy Vazzano and Chris Taylor, were moving their defenders out of the way.

“A great day for them,” Abdul Basir said. “They were just moving people out of the way and made great running lines. I’ve got to give them lots of credit Without them, I’d never had the kind of game or season that I had.”

Abdul Basir scored again, this time from a yard out when St. Joseph got the ball again.

The TD came with 2:35 remaining in the first quarter. The Cadets went for two points with Vazzano hooking up with receiver Mark Hirschbeck to build up a 16-0 lead.

St. Joseph scored three more times in the second quarter.

Lars Pedersen caught a 30-yarder in the right side of the end zone with a clutch grab at 10:39 of the second stanza for a 22-0 lead.

Hirschbeck then made a 21-yard sliding catch in the deepest part of the end zone to up the margin. His two-point conversion pass from Vazzano made it 30-0 with 4:30 remaining in the first half.

Abdul Basir then caught a screen pass and followed a fleet of blockers for a 54-yard score. Hirschbeck’s conversion catch gave St. Joseph a 38-0 lead at the half.

St. Joseph’s scored on all five possessions in the opening 24 minutes. By halftime, they had 291 yards total offense to just 82 by Brookfield (11-4).

Jack Yerxa’s 40-yard return of a fumble recovery and Joey Civitella’s two-point conversion run brought the score to 46-0 on Brookfield’s first possession of the third quarter.

Vazzano’s final TD throw of the game, 46 yards to Shane Miller, and another Civitella conversion rush, made it a 54-0 game going into the final period.

Cameron Ryan had 11 tackles, Pedersen eight and Dylan Ryan five, while Mike Schuchmann, K’tory Cobb, Alex Pinto and Konrad Piszczatowski had three stops each.

Della Vecchia gave his reserves experience in the final period, when the Bobcats’ Brad Westmark scored on a 27-yard run (at 5:49) and Bobby Drysdale broke off a 50-yard scoring jaunt (at 1:30). Brookfield tallied on each two-point conversion try to complete the scoring.

“We were beaten by a superior team today,” said Brookfield coach Rich Argarano, whose No. 5 seeded team defeated Bethel, 22-21, and Valley Regional/Old Lyme to reach the championship encounter. “Their running game was really good. They just ran it down our throats.”

St. Joseph, the No. 2 seed, closed its season with a 13-2 record. The only losses came against New Canaan, 62-21, during the regular season and to the Rams again, 31-20, in the FCIAC championship game.

“We may have lost to New Canaan twice, but we never hung our heads,” Vazzano said. “We got better and better as the season went along.”

St. Joseph reached the final by scoring 146 points in wins over Ledyard, 84-49 and Joel Barlow, 62-34. Prior to that, the Cadets defeated Trumbull, 61-26 on Thanksgiving.

“Like all of my senior groups before, this is a special batch of players,” Della Vecchia said. “As sophomores, they battled through a season where we won only four games (while losing six).

“We got into a good rhythm today,” he said. “We were able to score early and then make them chase us.

“I was worried about the field conditions. In fact, I woke up at 3:30 this morning, looked outside and saw that it was already snowing. I said, “Oh, my God,” I can’t believe that it’s already starting.”

The cold and wind weren’t big enough deterrents, however, to stop a Cadet team from bringing home another title.