Cadets defeat NDWH in FB Challenge

Jordan Vazzano threw for four touchdowns, two to Lars Pedersen, who also returned the second-half kickoff for a score, and the St. Joseph High football team defeated Notre Dame of West Haven 47-28 in the SCC/FCIAC Challenge that opened the season for both teams at the Dalling Complex in Trumbull on Sept. 14.

“We weren’t stopping them, and thought we could move the ball,” Cadet coach Joe Della Vecchia said.

“I don’t think we played crisp at all. Notre Dame is very physical, not just on the line, but the backs as well. We didn’t play well on defense and had struggle tackling. That kid (Cameron Tucker) is a good runner.”

Tucker ran for 242 yards and four touchdowns, as the Green Knights chased each St. Joseph score before Pedersen’s kickoff return.

Darren Jackson had an interception to stop ND on its opening drive, before Mark Hirschbeck made a one-handed catch on the Notre Dame 10-yard line and raced the rest of the way to complete a 49-yard touchdown play on the Cadets’ first play from scrimmage.

Tucker scored from eight yards out on Notre Dame’s third straight positive possession to tie things at 7 with 2:51 remaining in the first quarter. Mufasa Abdul-Basir carried twice to start the next Cadet series, and moved the chains with runs of 9- and 8 yards.

Steve Hashemi took out two defenders with a single block on the edge to free Pedersen for a 26-yard gain to the ND 16, but a fumble halted the threat.

Abdul-Basir went 11 yards on a tackle-breaking third-and inches run to regain the lead for the Cadets at 14-7, after the second of Mike Freeman’s five successful conversion kicks.

Tucker found the end zone on a two-yard run, and the game was deadlocked at 14 with 1:11 left to play in the first half.

Abdul-Basir went 17 yards on fourth-and-one from the Cadet 47, and with 14 seconds remaining before intermission, Vazzano made a perfect pass to Pedersen on a deep post pattern for 29 yards and a 21-14 halftime lead.

“This was a big win to start the season,” said Vazzano, who was 14-for-23 passing for 201 yards behind the blocking of Tom Adzima, Peter Mestre, Hashemi, Troy Vazzano and Chris Taylor.

“We need to keep improving. Having everyone able to make plays is a good thing to have.”

Pedersen took the second-half kickoff and went 82 yards to give St. Joseph a 13-point advantage.

“It was an ambush left return and some great blocks set it up,” Pedersen said, after his five-catch, 92-yard afternoon. “We didn’t play well overall, but that is a good Notre Dame team.”

Coach Tom Marcucci’s Knights never took a step back, and Tucker broke off a 71-yard touchdown run only two plays after Pedersen’s return.

The Cadets answered with an eight-play, 67-yard drive that ended with Vazzano’s nine-yard scoring pass to Pedersen. Notre Dame was forced to punt in its next two possessions, and St. Joseph made it 40-20 on Shane Miller’s 17-yard touchdown reception.

Tucker’s two-yard run with 5:09 left in the game cut into the Cadet advantage, before Vazzano completed the win with a one-yard run.

“I have to give Notre Dame a lot of props, they have a lot of talented kids and like to hit,” said Abdul-Basir, who ran for 119 yards on 14 carries. “Today, we worked very hard for this win. Even though Notre Dame stood with us, as a team we felt we should have done better.”

Next up for St. Joseph, ranked seventh in the state writer’s Top 10 poll, is another non-league battle with an SCC foe, this time with 15th-ranked Fairfield Prep at Alumni Field on Friday at 6 p.m.

The Jesuits are coming off a 28-0 win over Stamford High.