St.Joseph-Ridgefield (game story)

The St. Joseph High football team knows a thing or two about playing fast. When it comes to running an up-tempo, no-huddle offense, veteran senior quarterback Jordan Vazzano and the Cadets are as good as anyone in the state.

Then there is Ridgefield, which has taken its own version of fast and made it even faster, using an Oregon-type pace that squeezes as many offensive plays out of a game as possible.

During Saturday afternoon’s FCIAC clash against the Cadets, the Tigers produced a gaudy 72 snaps, not including punts.

At times, Ridgefield junior quarterback Ryan Dunn was calling a play before the chain gang had a chance to get the yard markers set.

“This is our third year in it,” said Ridgefield head coach Kevin Callahan of his fast-paced offensive system. “You’re always hoping to be faster. As you stay in it more, you just get better at it.”

For most teams, that often spells disaster. But as Callahan found out early, St. Joseph is no ordinary team.

St. Joseph proved why it is one of the top-ranked teams in the state, using its explosive offense and shut-down defense to post a 41-12 victory over the Tigers in a battle of previously undefeated teams on Sept. 28.

The Cadets (3-0 overall, 1-0 FCIAC), ranked third in the coaches poll and sixth by the writers, scored early and often, jumping out to a 14-0 lead after their first two possessions just 3:25 into the game.

Midway through the third quarter, St. Joseph had run half as many plays as Ridgefield, but led 35-0 because of its explosiveness.

St. Joseph scored six touchdowns — Vazzano threw for three and ran for another — and four of them went for 50 yards or more, including a 55-yard pass to Shane Miller to make it 14-0 and scoring strikes of 73 and 58 yards to Lars Petersen, one in the second quarter and one in the third.

Ridgefield (2-1 overall, 1-1 FCIAC) could have taken its pedal off the gas and turned to the running of senior halfback Will Bonaparte, who rushed for 129 yards on 27 carries. But Ridgefield never slowed its pace of play.

Ridgefield was trying to wear down the Cadets, but ran so many offensive plays attempting to make a comeback, they wore down themselves instead.

“They were trying to play fast but I think it back-fired a little bit. It seemed to wear them out a little bit more,” St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia said.

“I was surprised we only ran 34 plays at halftime. We wanted to run a lot of plays, but we were scoring in two or three plays, it wasn’t giving us a chance.”

And it wasn’t giving Ridgefield’s typically-stout defense a chance to catch its breath. Over the first seven minutes of the third quarter, the Tigers ran 17 plays and scored six points. St. Joseph used just five to score 13 to take a 41-6 lead.

“In the third quarter when we scored one of my coaches wanted to run an onside kick. But they were scoring every two or three plays, why would we want to give them good field position,” Callahan said.

“The better team won today, but this is a spot we’re not used to being in, so it was tough.”

Vazzano, whose Hail Mary throw in the final seconds helped St. Joseph beat Fairfield Prep last week, complete 12 of 20 passes for 332 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed four times for 48 yards and a 21-yard touchdown that gave St. Joseph a quick 7-0 lead.

By running such a quick offense, Ridgefield gave Vazzano more chances to make plays. And that’s exactly what he did.

“I personally think every time our offense touches the ball we can score,” Vazzano said. “So the more we get out there, the better.”

The running attack was just as formidable behind gifted junior tailback Mufasa Abdul-Basir, who carried the ball 12 times for 159 yards, including touchdown runs of 53 and 6 yards.

He also caught three passes out of the backfield for 45 yards. The threat of the run left St. Joseph’s receivers wide open at times.

“In 22 years as a head coach, I think that’s the best team I’ve seen,” Callahan said. “I think they’re that good. We just had no one to match up with them.”

Ridgefield just could not get an pressure on Vazzano, who had all day to throw behind great protection.

“He’s got a strong, strong arm. He’s more accurate than he’s been,” Della Vecchia said. “We’ve got guys who can go out and catch it, and our line protects him. We’re doing a great job everywhere.”

Vazzano is in a comfort zone, knowing he has so many weapons around him, gifted receivers like senior Mark Hirschbeck (three catches, 45 yards), Petersen (2 catches, 131 yards), Miller (2-57) and senior Darren Jackson on the outside.

“It’s great,” Vazzano said. “You never really get nervous to lose your composure when you know that in one play it can change the entire game with any one of our wide receivers.”

Ridgefield moved the ball well at times. Dunn completed 17 of 30 passes for 256 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Ridgefield only trailed St. Joseph 572-445 in total yardage. But the Cadets made big plays on defense when they needed them, especially on the edge behind senior cornerback Jackson (INT).

Ridgefield’s only scores came on a 1-yard pass from Dunn to Noah Broder with 5:31 in the third to make it 35-6 and a 41-yard reception by Erik Weber to make it 41-12 in the fourth.

Matt Laveneziana had an interception for St. Joseph.