Cadets bring home second consecutive state title
St. Joseph defeated Ledyard High, 37-7, to win the Class M-Small Division state championship at Veterans Memorial Stadium in New Britain on Dec. 13.
Coach Joe Della Vecchia’s second-seeded Cadets finished the season 11-2. Top-seeded Ledyard closed out at 12-1.
St. Joseph took a 21-7 lead into the half on touchdowns by Mufasha Abdul Basir (91-yard run and 31-yard run) and Lars Pedersen (a 31-yard touchdown pass from Cory Babineau). Marc Mrozek was perfect on three conversion kicks.
Despite the disparity on the scoreboard, both coaches pointed to defense as being the difference.
“They had a couple big drives in the third quarter, but I thought we stood up,” said Della Vecchia after his team won its second straight state title and fourth in six years.
“You’ve got to go punch for punch. Those (fourth-down stops) were big. Our defense did a tremendous job.”
Cameron Ryan, Matt Laveneziana, Nick Colucci, K’tory Cobb, Mike Jones, Konrad Piszczatowski, Connor Shay, Buddy Wade, Patrick Battista, Mrozek, Abdul Basir and Pedersen were put to the task after intermission.
The Colonels took the second-half kickoff and drove from their 45 to a first down at the Cadets’ 23-yard line.
Ryan, who led St. Joseph with 12 tackles, had a big stop and, but on third-and-13, Ledyard quarterback Ty Ebdon connected with Phyllip Thomas for an 11-yard gain to the 15.
On fourth-and two, the Cadets Laveneziana (seven tackles) stopped Ebdon a yard shy of the first down marker.
“Really I think the story of this game is the St. Joseph defense,” Ledyard coach Jim Buonocore said. “They did a heck of a job on us. I thought their linebackers, particularly number 11 (Ryan), did a heck of a job for them.”
Pedersen, who rushed for 57 yards on six carries and caught two passes for 36 yards, ran for 22 yards on first down, but the Colonels held and Ledyard took over on its 27.
A pass from River Thomas to Phyllip Thomas off a reverse play was good for 42 yards, before Pedersen forced him out of bounds on the Cadets’ 21.
Again, St. Joseph held. Piszczatowski tipped a first-down pass away before being joined by Wade, Ryan and Battista in stopping a screen pass for a three-yard loss. The next two passes fell incomplete, and Ledyard was stymied.
“I thought defensively in the third quarter, we played outstanding,” Buonocore said. “We had a couple opportunities to get ourselves within a touchdown, and we just came up short on some big third- and fourth-down plays.”
A quarterback sack set the Cadets back on their next series, and Ledyard took possession on the St. Joseph 44, but Pedersen intercepted a pass and returned it to the 38 as the quarter ended.
“They kept driving on us and credit to them because they’re a great team, but our defense played relentless today and we just didn’t stop,” Pedersen said.
After another three-and-out, Ryan punted away and the Colonels looked to reverse the ball on the return. The ball came free and Laveneziana recovered the fumble on the Ledyard 11-yard line.
The spell was broken and Mrozek banged home a 28-yard field goal to boost the lead to 24-7 with 10:09 remaining.
Abdul Basir had 28 yards on five carries before Pedersen scored on a 3-yard run at 5:42 of the final period. Mrozek returned an interception 52 yards for a touchdown at the 4:14 mark.
Ledyard threatened to take the lead on its first possession, only to be held on downs at the 17. Laveneziana tackled JoJo Schumaker for a three-yard loss and Abdul Basir (seven tackles) stayed home and stopped Schumaker for a negative six yards.
After a pair of false start penalties set St. Joseph back to its nine-yard line, Abdul Basir went 91 yards for a touchdown at the 1:31 mark of the opening period.
“That was our bread and butter play,” Della Vecchia said of the inside handoff that saw Abdul Basir follow Marc Bernatchez’ block to get free.
“Our line executed it phenomenally. They blitz so much, and we had to practice 8 million different blitzes and how we’re going to pick it up on that play. Our kids picked it up great, and Mufasha did the rest.”
Abdul Basir, who rushed for 205 yards on 26 carries, said: “I know how hard my guys on the line worked this season. They dedicated themselves in the weight room to get us here. I was fully confident they wouldn’t be satisfied unless we brought home another title to our school. I’m going to miss it.”
The defense got the ball back quickly, and this time instead of a sudden strike, the Cadets went 64 yards in 13 time-consuming plays.
With Troy Vazzano, Chris Taylor, Jack Ganser, Tim Beyer, Piszczatowski, Bernatchez blocking up front, and receivers Rich Brown, Seamus Keating, Battista and Pedersen stalk blocking at the second level, St. Joseph moved the chains four times.
Babineau, who was 8-for-15 and 80 yards, then made a perfectly thrown pass to Pedersen, who made the catch over an outstretched Luke Saccone for the 31-yard touchdown.
Mrozek’s extra point gave the Cadets a 14-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
“They (Abdul Basir and Pedersen) make you look good. They can do a lot of things for you. We knew they were going to double Lars wherever he went. (The touchdown pass) was the one time we got him one-on-one, so we were going right there.”
Liam Sperack pressured Saccone on a Ledyard punt and the Cadets took over on the Colonel’s 31-yard line.
Abdul Basir dodged tacklers and raced untouched the 31 yards for a touchdown with 4:48 left in the half.
Ledyard cut into the 21-0 deficit on Ebdon’s 34-yard touchdown pass to Schumaker with 1:20 remaining in the second quarter.