The St. Joseph High football team met the challenge head on and handily disposed of Trinity Catholic from Stamford, 49-14, in an FCIAC showdown with state playoff implications at Bunnell Field in Stratford on Thursday night.

Coach Joe Della Vecchia’s Cadets improved to 7-2, and with a win over Trumbull High on Thanksgiving Eve, will likely clinch a Class M playoff berth.

St. Joseph is sixth in the eight-team playoff chase, with New London, Bullard-Havens and Montville nipping at its heels.

“I thought we could run the ball on them,” said Della Vecchia, whose club ground out 330 rushing yards and nearly 600 yards of offense on the 7-1 Crusaders.

“I didn’t really think they could stop us on offense. They were so deep in coverage we said ‘let’s go at them.’”

The offensive line of Robert Roehrich, Nick DelBuono, Tom Adzima, Peter Mestre and Steve Hashemi received an ovation from the Cadet faithful when they were relieved of duty with three minutes remaining.

Jake Pelletier, who scored running, receiving and throwing the ball, was proud of his team.

“We came out with the mindset we had to get this win, and everything was perfect,” said Pelletier, who also drilled all seven of his conversion kicks.

“Our offensive line was fantastic. Mufasa [Abdul-Basir] was great. Everything was just right tonight.”

Abdul-Basir (19-yard run) Kyron Crawford (a pair of 5-yard runs) and quarterback Jordan Vazzano had the bulk of the carries, and the Cadets’ Lars Pedersen recovered a fumble forced by Dylan Ryan and had an interception.

Abdul-Basir’s most important moment came when he chased down Nemo Merritt inside the Cadets’ 15-yard line after the Crusader intercepted a pass on the goal line and was en route to a 100-yard score as the horn sounded to end the first half.

St. Joseph had a 14-0 lead in the first quarter when Merritt returned a kickoff 96 yards to take away some of the momentum.

The rivals exchanged scores before Vazzano threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Pelletier with 1:45 left in the opening half.

Mike Pulaski scored on a six-yard pass in the third quarter, before Pelletier threw a 62-yard scoring pass to Denzel Moscova on a double-toss play for a 42-14 lead after three periods.

“Our kids were ready to go all week,” Della Vecchia said. “We’ll be playing a good Trumbull team, and we hope for more games after that. I’m proud of the way our kids went after it, and with a rivalry game coming up we need more of it.”

The Cadets took control early against Trinity, which needs to defeat Wilton High to keep its hopes of a Class S playoff berth alive.

Vazzano had back-to-back chain-moving carries to open the game before Crawford had five totes for 21 yards, including a five-yard run for the touchdown.

Mike Raucci, Mike Schuchman and Ryan Moran helped slow the Crusaders’ option, with Mike Pulaski, Matt Hare, Kurtis Mudre, Ryan Mulligan and Ryan making plays at the second level.

Jon Prutting, Darren Jackson and Pedersen played tight coverage in the secondary.

Pelletier’s 15-yard return of a punt gave the Cadets a short field, and Abdul-Basir pinwheeled his way for a 20-yard touchdown with 36 seconds left in the first quarter.

Merritt returned the kickoff for a score, but St. Joseph drove 77 yards in 11 plays before Pelletier cut inside a Pulaski block from a yard out.

Mark Hirschbeck’s 16-yard reception got the drive moving.

Trinity countered with a 63-yard touchdown drive to close the gap to 21-14 with 2:35 left in the half.

That was enough time for Abdul-Basir to run for a 24-yard gain and Vazzano to fire a bullet pass to Pelletier over the middle for a 15-yard touchdown at 1:45.

Trinity moved to the St. Joseph 26 before giving the ball up on downs to start the third quarter.

The Cadets went 74 yards behind a pile-driving 14-yard run by Abdul-Basir and a 35-yard pass to Hirschbeck.

Abdul-Basir carried three times from the 17 to the five-yard line, where Vazzano connected Pulaski on a bootleg pass for a 34-14 lead at 6:01 of the third.

Schuchman’s forced fumble was recovered by Pulaski to end TC’s next possession, and Pelletier’s 62-yard double pass to Moscova ended the scoring.