Cadets don't back down to Knights

Mufasha Abdul Basir rushed for 207 yards and a touchdown and the St. Joseph defense stopped Notre Dame of West Haven four times inside its 20-yard line, as coach Joe Della Vecchia’s Cadets defeated the Green Knights, 17-6, before a packed house in an SCC-FCIAC Challenge game at Veteran Memorial Field in West Haven on Sept. 11.

“I can’t say enough great things about our defense,” said Della Vecchia after St. Joseph posted the program’s 300th victory. “I’ve said our linebackers are a strength, but our guys really battled up front and did the job.”

The Cadets special teams shined.

Cameron Ryan flipped the field on three occasions with punts that went for 50-plus yards.

Marc Mrozek hit a pair of clutch extra points and the senior blocked a punt to set up his 24-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter that staked St. Joseph to a two-score advantage.

“We knew going in it was going to be a tough game and we all went out and did our best,” Mrozek said. “This is my first punt block. We work every day before and after practice on kicking field goals and PATs.”

The Cadets drove 65 yards on their first possession to take a 7-0 lead after quarterback Kevin Trefz scored on a 9-yard keeper and Mrozek made the point after.

Abdul Basir ran for 12 yards on his first carry, and had 60 yards in total on St. Joseph’s first series.

“I had the utmost confidence,” Abdul Basir said when asked his thoughts on running behind a revamped offensive line. “I knew they were going to make the holes.”

Troy Vazzano, Chris Taylor, Jack Ganser, Conrad Piczczatowski and Marc Bernatchez had the task of trying to move a talented defensive front seven. Tim Beyer came in to play guard and Vazzano switched to tackle when Taylor was sidelined early with an injury.

“We knew we had the potential to play well up front,” Della Vecchia said. They know their schemes and communicated very well.”

Notre Dame moved to the Cadet 18 midway through the first period, but were held on downs when Mike Jones forced a fumble and a loss of eight yards and Piczczatowski tackled ND quarterback Chris Lupoli short of the sticks.

Ryan’s first punt traveled 54 yards to gain valuable field position, but after St. Joseph forced a punt the return was fumbled and the Green Knights took over at the Cadets’ 47-yard line.

Two plays gained 35 yards and brought the ball to the St. Joseph 12, as the second quarter got under way.

K’tory Cobb disrupted a bubble screen for a one-yard loss, the next pass fell incomplete, and Nick Colucci and Spencer Lucas read a screen pass and tackled Prince Brooks five yards behind the line of scrimmage.

The secondary shadowed the receivers on fourth down and Lupoli had to throw the ball away.

Notre Dame’s defense toughened after St. Joseph’s opening drive, and the Cadets needed Ryan to boot another 54-yard punt to keep the Knights on their side of the field.

Flipping the field didn’t help this time, as Kobe Wiggins had a tackle-breaking 60-yard run midway through the second period. The conversion kick went into the middle of the Cadet line and St. Joseph still led 7-6.

Notre Dame crossed midfield late in the first half, but Colucci had a big hit on Lupoli to force a 15-yard loss.

St. Joseph took the one-point lead into the half and the Cadets looked to boost their advantage on their first possession of the third quarter.

With great protection, Trefz put the ball on target and Lars Pedersen made the catch for a 38-yard gain to the Knights’ 16.

Abdul Basir, who had gained 110 yards on 15 first-half carries, ran to the five, but the Knights held on downs at the one.

Buddy Wade had a key stop and St. Joseph forced a three-and-out and went 58 yards on its next series to stretch its lead to 14-6.

With Notre Dame focused on Abdul Basir, Trefz went to the quarterback read and took the ball out of his running back’s belly and kept the ball three times for 19 yards total on the drive.

Abdul Basir broke off a 21-yard gain and followed Ryan’s block into the end zone from three yards out. Mrozek’s PAT made it a 14-6 game with 2:16 left in the third quarter.

After Mrozek’s blocked punt went out of bounds on the Notre Dame 19-yard line, the Green Knights held before Mrozek split the uprights with his 24-yarder with 10:42 to play.

Notre Dame drove to the Cadets’ 20 and 27, only to be halted on downs and by an Abdul Basir interception.

“This game threw us right in the fire against a physical team and we didn’t back down all night,” Della Vecchia said.

St. Joseph, ranked eighth in the state media poll, will host No. 2 Fairfield Prep on Saturday at 1 p.m.