Disciplined defense makes a difference

It didn’t take long for St. Joseph High linebackers Kevin Bortnick, Matt Laveneziana and Cameron Ryan to introduce themselves to Joel Barlow quarterback Jack Shaban in the Cadets’ state semifinal game in Stratford on Dec. 7.

The hard-tackling trio of Cadets and the hard-running Shaban took center stage from the outset of St. Joseph’s victory over the Falcons.

St. Joseph scored on its first possession, and Shaban looked to lead Barlow to an equalizer on its first series.

Each of the Cadets, however, were in on three tackles apiece as Barlow was held on downs at the St. Joseph 35-yard line.

After an empty possession by the Cadets, the Falcons took over near midfield, but stops by Bortnick and Laveneziana forced a third-and-5.

Harry Wilson looked to take a pitch out from Shaban, but Laveneziana read the toss, stuck his hand in to knock the ball loose.

He recovered on the Cadets’ 48-yard line.

Shane Miller ran 52 yards for a touchdown, for the first of his four scores, on the next play.

Barlow, averaging 404 yards rushing on the season, kept looking to grind down the Cadet defense.

On its third possession, down 14, Barlow was stopped on downs at the St. Joseph 32 with Alex Pinto coming up from his cornerback position to stop Shaban two yards short.

Mike Schuchmann, Mike Konecny, Konrad Piszczatowski and Dylan Ryan were the primary run stoppers up front, and the Falcons never found the end zone in the first half.

After a three-and-out to open the second quarter, Jordan Vazzano ran 52 yards for the Cadets third touchdown off a read-option for a 21-0 lead.

Barlow’s Stephen Miller broke wide for a 28-yard gain to lead a Falcon drive to the Cadets’ 19.

Schuchmann and Dylan Ryan stopped Shaban for a two-yard loss, and in a rare break from tradition, Barlow went to the air, but Lars Pedersen stepped in front of Wilson to make the end zone interception.

St. Joseph marched 80 yards to up the score to 28-0, and Nick Colucci, Joe Prutting, Jack Yerxa and Dylan Ryan frustrated Barlow’s attempts to get on the board before the break.

Barlow regained its stride in the third quarter to find the end zone three times — once on a kickoff return — but with the game on the line the Cadet defense was stellar.

Barlow was trailing 34-20 and moved to a first down at the St. Joseph 14 late in the third period.

A holding penalty and an incomplete pass set up a third-and 21, but here Shaban faked a pass, pulled the ball in and raced for a 14-yard gain.

On third-and-7 from the 11, Cameron Ryan shed a blocker and tackled Bryan Gallaer after only a two-yard gain as the quarter came to a close.

Shaban, who had rushed for 36 touchdowns coming into the game, looked to add one more here from the nine-yard line, but Schuchmann and Collucci brought him down a yard short of the first down and the Cadets took over on their five.

It is said that defenses win championships, and in this case, it was enough to boost St. Joseph into its first final since winning consecutive titles in 2009-10.