The Blitz: Cadets’ Calm Fuels Dramatic Win


Staples hopes to break through modest expectations this fall. (Photo: Katie Burns)

By Dave Ruden

There were six seconds and 42 yards left separating the St. Joseph High School football team from a devastating loss Friday night, and quarterback Jordan Vazzano was a picture of calm in the huddle.

“No one lost faith, which is one of the great things about our team,” Vazzano said. “Everyone believed.”

Optimism turned into celebration as Vazzano finished a terrific night by hitting Lars Pedersen in the right corner of the end zone to give the Cadets a dramatic 36-34 win over Fairfield Prep.

St. Joseph had held a 30-14 lead before the Jesuits rallied to score 20 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to take an improbable lead.

The Blitz: Sizing Up The FCIAC Football Season

“There was really no panic,” St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia said. “We huddled with our kickoff return team and talked about getting the best return we could. Then we huddled with the offense and said lets be fast, lets be perfect. Everyone had confidence. We were moving the ball all night.”

Della Vecchia had his receivers all run verticals, but with two adjusting their routes so that Pedersen would be isolated. It is hard to tell from the replay, but it appears either Pedersen and the Prep defender got their feet tangled, or the defender stumbled trying to keep up with Pedersen.

“Lars got one on one and just ran by him,” Della Vecchia said. “The other kid had his back to him. He was already by him.”

Vazzano was sensational, completing 29 of 45 passes for 379 yards and five touchdowns.

“I can’t leave out our supporting cast,” Vazzano said. “The line played great. I think we have the best offensive line in the state, and the receivers as well.”

One, Shane Miller, had 12 receptions for 180 yards, two carries for 57 yards and 280 total yards and four touchdowns.

The Cadets have now beaten two good SCC schools; they were coming off a 47-28 win over Notre Dame-West Haven.

What is St. Joseph’s reward? It opens league play with home games against two of the FCIAC’s best teams, Ridgefield Saturday and Darien the following week. Then the Cadets, unbelievably, are not home again until Thanksgiving. One of the trips is to New Canaan.

There is no disputing the Cadets are both league and state title contenders. They will have to overcome one of the most demanding schedules.

All the more reason Friday’s comeback was so important.


“Looking at the beginning of the season, obviously we wanted to try and start out 4-0,” Della Vecchia said. “If we can do that we’ll be in good shape. But we have a long way to go.”

Curiosity Surrounds Staples And Wilton

What to make of Staples’ 14-7 win over Wilton Friday night? The Wreckers, despite their recent success, got very little respect during the preseason, in part because of a bad scrimmage against Fairfield Prep that generated the kind of state-wide talk usually associated with a knitting circle.

Staples was competitive in an opening loss to Xavier, which was then upset by North Haven on Friday. A more comfortable win against the Warriors was expected.

The defense is still a work in progress, but the offense was surprisingly out of sync, even with the return of running back Patrick Lesch, who was responsible for the unit’s lone touchdown.

Staples’ season will depend on how quickly its young players mature. One bright spot: the Wreckers will be favored in their remaining regular season games, except for New Canaan, before hosting the annual Thanksgiving contest with Greenwich.

More revelatory was the toughness of Wilton. Coach Bruce Cunningham doesn’t have a lot of players, but the ones he has are quality. Quarterback Brett Phillips is a dual threat, while Patrick Ryan is a gritty runner.

“They’re pretty good,” Petroccio said. “You only need 11 guys, and they’ve got 11 pretty good guys. That quarterback is a hell of a player.”

Wilton’s schedule is backloaded: it must face St. Joseph, Darien, New Canaan and Ridgefield in a six-game stretch. If the shortage of numbers don’t wear the players down — a big if late in the year — don’t be surprised if there is an upset in there somewhere.

“We’ll fight you,” Cunningham said. “We’re not going to back down from you. That’s what I like about these guys. They’ll battle you to the end.”

Games Of The Week

Ridgefield (2-0) at St. Joseph (2-0), Saturday 1:30 p.m. Can the Cadets handle their third straight difficult game? And how good is Ridgefield? We will find out.

New Canaan (2-0) at Greenwich (1-1), Saturday 4 p.m. The Cardinals now find themselves in a must-win situation against the FCIAC’s best team to salvage their postseason hopes. The manner in which they lost to Darien was more shocking than the outcome itself.

The Fab 5

New Canaan (2-0): The Rams go on the road to take on a desperate and angry Greenwich team.

St. Joseph (2-0): Good teams find ways to win the way the Cadets did against Prep.

Darien (2-0): Defensive lineman Mark Evanchick has been unblockable in the first two games.

Ridgefield (2-0): St. Joseph is a measuring stick opponent for the Tigers.

Greenwich (1-1): The Cardinals have too much talent to lose to anyone by three touchdowns. Right?