By Dave Ruden
Kevin Callahan and Joe Della Vecchia grew up together on the north end of Bridgeport, their days spent like many kids before an era when every activity was organized.
“Joe’s a year younger than me,” Callahan said. “He lived around the corner. We used to play touch football, Wiffle Ball.”
Callahan and Della Vecchia coached together for a year at Notre Dame of Fairfield. On Saturday, they will find themselves on opposite sidelines, the friendship put on hold for three hours.
In one of the weekend’s two big games, Callahan’s Ridgefield High School football team travels to Trumbull to take on Della Vecchia and St. Joseph.
“We know it’s going to be quite the challenge,” Callahan said. “We think we have a chance to step up to the challenge. I’m not a gambling guy, but I hope this is a pick-’em. They are impressive. They are a play waiting to score every single snap.”
Though the season is just two weeks old, the Cadets have lived up to the preseason expectations thus far, beating a pair of top SCC programs, Notre Dame-West Haven and Fairfield Prep.
As has been well publicized, the win over Fairfield Prep came after the Cadets, having lost a 30-14 lead by yielding 20 straight points, dodged defeat when Jordan Vazzano completed a 42-yard touchdown pass to Lars Pedersen on the game’s final play for a dramatic 36-34 win.
“Stopping them is going to be the first challenge,” Callahan said. “We like to talk of trying to be a dynamic offense. They are that dynamic offense.”
Ridgefield, despite a 2-0 start, is always something of a mystery team, sort of the FCIAC’s North Korea. Due to their distance from lower Fairfield County, there is often a paucity of information about the Tigers.
“I kind of sensed that for a very long time,” Callahan said. “We’ve won 80 percent of our games but we never get the credit, never get recognized.”
Ridgefield also stands at 2-0, with wins over Cheshire and Fairfield Ludlowe.
The Tigers have one of the league’s top running backs, senior Will Bonaparte, who has rushed for 361 yards, an average of 10.3 yards a carry. The offense has been balanced by the play of quarterback Ryan Dunn, who has thrown for 188 yards and one touchdown.
The defense has been led by seniors Lucas Goff, Micky Carbone and Jimmy Turner, and junior Jimmy Turner. Noah Broder and Aidan Mauro have combined for five interceptions.
A win over St. Joseph would alter the league playoff picture and put the Tigers on the marquee.
“It doesn’t matter,” Callahan said. “We do what we do. We have a great opportunity. These are the games we want on our schedule. These are the games that help us to be successful.”
The Tigers had to deal with season-opening losses to Greenwich the past two years. They finished with eight wins each time and qualified for the state playoffs in 2011, resulting in a first-round loss to Staples.
This year there has been the chance to build some momentum.
“It is tough losing your first game but that’s the way things work out with the schedule sometimes,” Callahan said. “It’s hit or miss.”
Callahan is hoping for a hit on Saturday, even if it comes at the expense of a childhood friend.
“Joe does a great job with his offense and he does a great job as coach,” Callahan said. “I think it is going to be a dynamic game. Not three yards and a cloud of dust.”