Shirden’s TD explosion leads St. Joe’s into semis
TRUMBULL — One down, two to go.
Jaden Shirden scored six touchdowns Wednesday night, leading No. 1 St. Joseph past No. 8 Wilton, 49-7, in the Class L quarterfinals at Jerry McDougall Stadium.
The victory leaves Joe Della Vecchia’s Hogs two wins away from winning a third straight state title in its third different class, a feat never accomplished in CIAC playoff history.
Next up for the unbeaten Cadets is New Canaan, a 42-7 winner over No. 5 Wethersfield in its quarterfinal. The FCIAC rivals will meet on Monday night in the semifinals at Bunnell High in Stratford. The Cadets (11-0) defeated the Rams, 58-14, in the regular season. New Canaan (9-2) has won seven consecutive games since that loss. St. Joe’s captured the Class S title in 2017 and Class M last year.
Daniel Hand (11-0), the two-time defending Class L champion, is on the opposite side of the bracket. The No. 2 seeded Tigers will meet No. 3 Maloney of Meriden in the semifinals. The title game is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 14, at a time and place to be determined.
“It was a great opportunity, a great win,” said Shirden, who ran for 222 yards on 11 carries.
When asked what it meant to meet New Canaan in the semifinals, the senior standout said, “That’s where we wanted to get to, one step closer. It doesn’t matter (playing an FCIAC team). We respect them, we’ll keep playing.”
Playing for Shirden meant scoring three times on his first five touches of the football against Wilton (7-4).
Shirden broke off a 53-yard touchdown run on the game’s third play from scrimmage. Austin Jose made the first of his seven conversion kicks, and St. Joseph led 7-0 only 45 seconds into the contest.
Coach E.J. DiNunzio’s Warriors countered with a 75-yard march to tie the game on Jim O’Brien’s 10-yard pass to Kyle Hyzy and Parker Woodring’s PAT.
Shirden, after a bobble, gathered himself and raced 88 yards for the go-ahead score on the ensuing kickoff.
Jack Wallace completed passes to Shirden (17 yards) and Brady Hutchison (20 yards) to set up Shirden’s 11-yard scamper for a 21-7 lead with 5:22 left in the first.
Wilton, behind the running of Drew Phillips and John DiRocco, was able to move the chains against a Cadet defense that had allowed only 58 points but couldn’t dent the end zone.
Dennis Rotunno’s interception stopped the Warriors after they moved to the 17. After Daniel Sullivan got the ball back with an INT of his own, the Hogs’ Alex Pagliarini recovered a fumble forced by Davee Silas at the St. Joseph 32 midway through the second quarter.
Dealt a long field to traverse after DiRocco’s 52-yard punt, St. Joe’s went 81 yards in five plays. Jose’s 44-yard reception set it up for Shirden to skirt the end for a 15-yard score and a 28-7 lead at 2:38 of the second period.
Wilton hopes of a comeback took a hit when Pagliarini recovered a Warrior fumble and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown 58 seconds into the third quarter.
Shirden’s 91-yard touchdown run came at the 5:13 mark of the third quarter.
Shirden’s sixth score came on a 6-yard run after Owen DaSilva’s 37-yard catch kept the drive alive.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
St. Joseph’s Jaden Shirden rushed for 222 yards on 11 carries. He ran for five touchdowns and returned a kickoff 88 yards for another score.
ST. JOSEPH 49, WILTON 7
WILTON 7 0 0 0 — 7
ST. JOSEPH 21 7 14 7 — 0
SJ—Jaden Shirden 53 run (Austin Jose kick)
W —Kyle Hyzy 10 pass from Jim O’Brien (Parker Woodring kick)
SJ — Shirden 88 kickoff return (Jose kick)
SJ — Shirden 11 run (Jose kick)
SJ — Shirden 15 run (Jose kick)
SJ — Alex Pagliarini 17 fumble return (Jose kick)
SJ — Shirden 91 run (Jose kick)
SJ — Shirden 6 run (Jose kick)
Records: Wilton 7-4; St. Joseph 11-0