TRUMBULL — It appears lack-of-respect issues are not the sole propriety of the Brien McMahon football team.
The Senators, playing for their first FCIAC championship game appearance in 19 years, as well as a Class LL playoff berth, needed a win at St. Joseph Saturday afternoon to secure the former.
McMahon (7-2) had been ridiculed the past 14 months for not facing a worthy schedule of opponents, even though that was the very factor that would have lifted it over the top had it not allowed three straight touchdowns in just over four minutes in the fourth quarter of a 33-17 loss.
“They outplayed us and they deserved to win,” McMahon coach A.J. Albano said. “I thought we played a very good first half. I thought defensively we missed too many tackles in the second half.”
The Cadets (8-2), who clinched the chance to defend their Class M title, listened all week as their coach, Joe Della Vecchia, played the Rodney Dangerfield card. He lamented his team being treated as an afterthought — a valid point — because of the McMahon-Darien-New Canaan hydra that was on the table, as well as mistreatment — this is a reach — in the state polls.
“It was all about McMahon going to the FCIAC championship and they forgot we were in the game, so we used that,” Della Vecchia said. “We had a lot to play for. We had everything to play for. The kids took it to heart.”
The outcome solved a problem not of the Senators’ making, and one they gladly would have endured. With New Canaan and Darien unbeaten in conference play and ranked, respectively, No. 2 and 3 in the state in both polls, the Senators would have bumped the Blue Wave, leaving the general public to believe they would not have been getting a true FCIAC championship.
As Albano said before Saturday’s game, his team had created the situation of being in control of its own destiny, tiebreakers and general opinion be damned.
And though the Senators bent, they had a 10-7 halftime lead and were ahead, 17-13, after Timmy Hinton’s spectacular 43-yard run with 10:48 left in the game.
But the momentum quickly changed when the Senators were called for a late hit on the ensuing kickoff and Mufasha Abdul-Basir, the Cadets’ star back, went up the middle for 40 yards on the next play, setting up quarterback Cory Babineau’s 1-yard sneak for a lead that would not be relinquished.
McMahon then fumbled away the kickoff, which led to Lars Pedersen’s 11-yard scoring run. After the Senators went three and out, Abdul-Basir carried the ball four straight times, the last a 46-yard run for his second score of the day.
“After we fell to New Canaan a lot of guys doubted us,” said Pedersen, who also had two touchdowns. “A lot of guys stopped talking about us. Today we came out in the first half playing like we had been playing, with mistakes and turnovers. In the second half we came together, we had big touchdown runs. Everyone was making their blocks and we were jelling.”
Save for a few lapses, the Cadets looked like a team that will be tough to derail in their quest for a second straight state title.
“In the second half we played great,” Della Vecchia said. “The turnover on the kickoff, that was a big momentum changer. Everyone forgot about St. Joe’s, forgot we even existed.”
The Cadets do not exactly belong on milk cartons, but if that helped get the best out of Della Vecchia’s team, so be it.
While all the talk has focused on the Senators’ FCIAC hopes, they aren’t about to go hiding either. They will earn a state playoff berth with a Thanksgiving morning win over Norwalk. It is not a bad consolation.
“Obviously we are disappointed being so close to the FCIAC championship game, but now we set our sights on the state playoffs,” Albano said. “Last year 8-2 didn’t get us in, but this year with strength of schedule I think 8-2 will get us in.”