Football: St. Joseph Cadets win battle of playoff hopefuls

The St. Joseph football team held off a strong performance by Staples High, 17-14, in a meeting of 6-1 FCIAC teams with playoff aspirations in Westport on Friday night.

“This was a game where we could see what we are really made of,” Cadet head coach Joe Della Vecchia said. “We knew it was going to be a physical battle. We had to match their emotion...We played with passion and heart.”

There was no question who was going to get the football the most down the stretch — Jaden Shirden.

“Jaden is not a big kid (5-9, 180 pounds), but plays big,” Della Vecchia said of his junior running back. “He came up with some big runs.”

Shirden finished the night with 166 yards rushing on 29 carries.

He had six consecutive carries when the Hogs, ranked No. 5 in the GameTime CT state poll, moved the chains twice and took 4:11 off the clock as game moved into the fourth quarter.

Shirden added five more carries on the Cadets last two possessions to eat up both valuable time and three Staples timeouts.

“I want to put the team on my back,” Shirden said. “I don’t care if the defense knows I’m going to get the ball. Coach told us we had to fight hard and that’s what my o-line (Robert Mihaly, Mark Arnone, Dennis Elrod, Chris Kiley, Nick DiIorio, Rich Licursi) and our defense did.”

Jermaine Williams led a superior effort by the Hog defense from his nose guard position.

“Number one was to contain the quarterback,” Williams said when asked the defense's mandate going in. “Coach (Gary) Clark told me I had to have the game of my life. Our d-line puts in a lot of hard work every day. To beat a good team like Staples, it always comes down to fundamentals.”

Staples went 62 yards to score on its opening possession, with talented quarterback Jake Thaw throwing an 18-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Lynch. Brad Cox added the PAT.

St. Joseph took advantage of a short field to work with late in the period.

David Summer’ punt set the Wreckers back to their 14, where Alex Pagliarini and Michael Morrissey kept them penned in.

Three Shirden carries went for 15 yards, before Summers threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Phil Pasmeg.

Luke Kirby’s conversion kick tied things at 7-all with 1:57 remaining in the quarter.

Shirden broke off a 37-yard run to set up Kirby’s go-ahead 34-yard field goal at the 4:01 mark of the half.

Defense dominated in the third quarter.

The biggest play came when Williams hit Thaw and Noah Gage intercepted his pass at the Wreckers’ 35-yard line.

Three Shirden carries, including a 9-yard run that defined toughness, brought the ball to the 17.

Shirden took it up the middle for a 17-yard score and a 17-7 lead with 5:02 left in the third.

Staples put together an 83-yard, 11-play drive to make it a one possession game on Thaw’s 3-yard run.

The Cadets controlled enough of the line of scrimmage and then made Staples drive the length of the field in the final frame.

The Wreckers had possession from their 20 with 8:39 left, and after Thaw ran for 15 yards, Jesse Lawson had a key stop on third down to force a punt.

Staples got the back at the 4:23 mark, but Cole daSilva had a QB sack worth negative 14 yards on a well-timed blitz.

Myles Hall then tipped a third down pass away from Dylan Ward.

Kirby got a 43-yard punt off under pressure, and the Wreckers had to start it final possession from their 27 with 2:13 on the clock.

On second down, Jack Wallace recovered to knock a pass away from an open Ward in Cadet territory.

Lawson and Pagliarini combined to tackle Thaw for a two-yard loss, before his fourth-down pass fell incomplete and the Hogs took over and kneeled away the remaining time.