St. Joseph players elevate game to match moment

Good teams need great players to rise to the occasion. Mufasha Abdul Basir and Lars Pedersen, veteran members of St. Joseph’s defending state football champions, did just that when coach Joe Della Vecchia’s No. 8 ranked Cadets turned back No. 2 Fairfield Prep, 48-33, before an overflow crowd at the Dalling Sports Complex in Trumbull on Sept. 20.

Talented players have to raise their play to equal the moment. Abdul Basir, with 272 yards rushing and two touchdowns, was selected as the Most Valuable Player in this Rivalry Game sponsored by the United States Marine Corps.

“I’m an aggressive runner,” Abdul Basir said after St. Joseph moved to 2-0. “I run hard and always try to keep my feet moving. I just want to make plays.”

Pedersen accounted for three touchdowns — one on a punt return, one throwing a pass and a third with a pass reception.

“We had to do everything we could do to contain him (Prep quarterback Colton Smith),” said Pedersen. “Matt (Laveneziana) and Cam Ryan were amazing at linebacker.

“It was a great group effort. They had us on our heels, but we are going to keep plugging away at it because that is who we are.”

Pedersen’s 23-yard catch for a score came with seven minutes remaining and the Cadets clinging to a 33-27 lead.

The connection also shone a light on another St. Joseph player — quarterback Kevin Trefz.

Playing on the biggest stage of his two-game long career, Trefz showed plenty of patience and a lot of poise on the fourth-and-11 play with the game on the line.

Prep (1-1) had scored on two straight possessions to begin the second half and cut into a once 26-7 deficit.

St. Joseph moved the chains four times to garner a first down at the Jesuits’ 22-yard line, when the next three snaps resulted in a one-yard loss.

On fourth down, Trefz rolled to his left and waited for Pedersen to complete his route. Pedersen put his body between the defender and the ball and latched onto the 23-yard touchdown pass in the end zone.

“Lars is a great receiver and I just waited for him to come free underneath,” said Trefz, who then hooked up with Pedersen for the two-point conversion and a 41-27 lead. “I trust my lineman to give me the time I need.”

Trefz’ contribution weren’t lost on Della Vecchia.

“I thought Kevin played well today,” he said of his junior signalcaller, who threw for 168 yards and two scores. “A lot of players grew up today; Kevin grew up today.”

Another Cadet who elevated his game was Seamus Keating.

One of Pedersen’s receiving sidekicks, the senior got open in the end zone to catch Pedersen’s 22-yard halfback option pass to extend St. Joseph’s lead to 19-7 with four minutes remaining in the first half.

The Cadets’ next series began at their 20 with 2:08 remaining before the break.

Trefz completed passes to Abdul Basir (38 yards) and Keating (11 yards) to earn a first down at the Jesuits’ 17.

On third-and-11 from the 18 with 17 seconds on the clock, Trefz put the ball where only Keating good catch it, and he kept both feet in bounds by the pylon for the touchdown.

The Cadets’ success on offense wasn’t lost on Prep head coach Tom Shea.

“He’s a terrific back,” Shea said of Abdul Basir. “I’ll give credit where credit is due, but we did a very poor job tackling. We had good hits in good places. But we didn’t wrap him up and that’s why he’s so good.”

The blocking up front by Troy Vazzano, Jack Ganser, Marc Bernatchez, Konrad Piszczatowski and Chris Taylor gave Abdul Basir all the room he needed.

Smith led Prep to a pair of scores in each of the last two quarters, including a 21-yard run.

St. Joseph’s defense did the job with Buddy Wade, Spencer Lucas, Mike Jones and Piszczatowski leading the way up front. Laveneziana, Ryan, Nick Colucci, Jake Smith, Abdul Basir and Connor Shay made plays in the middle, and the secondary of Pedersen, Marc Mrozek, Liam Seperack and K’tory Cobb limited the Prep passing attack.