It is a scene that has played out 12 times over the past three months, most recently Monday night after a 42-0 Class L semifinal win over New Canaan.
After each victory by the St. Joseph football team, the attention is focused on the numbers on its side of the scoreboard. The Cadets have averaged 50 points a game, and reporters are inevitably crowded afterward around running back Jaden Shirden and quarterback Jack Wallace, depending on whether the majority of the touchdowns have come by air or by ground.
Seldom are the times when members of the defense are surrounded by recorders, though just as impressively the Cadets have given up just over five points per game.
“We joke about that all the time in film,” said Alex Pagliarini, the Cadets’ middle linebackers and one of their captains.” The defense doesn’t get too much ink because of Shirden scoring five or six times a game. We go back in film and look at the nice plays we make and it’s definitely something special that’s never been done before.”
Even on an outstanding defense, Pagliarini and Cole DaSilva, veteran linebackers, have been overlooked. Well not by everyone. DaSilva was named both to the All-FCIAC and All-State teams. Pagliarini was picked to the All-FCIAC second team.
They are joined on the unit by another senior, first-year starter Dennis Rotunno.
“Cole and Pags have been starting for three years now,” Cadets coach Joe Della Vecchia said. “They love to play football, they love to study the game and they have fun out there, they love to get after it. Denny played mostly special teams for us and he’s done a great job fitting in with those guys. I think they’re a tremendous group of backers and they do a great job for us.”
Despite the proficiency of the offense, a strong case can be made that the Cadets’ biggest strength is their front seven on defense. It is an impressive unit that has yet to be solved. And it will be a key to perhaps the most anticipated game of the year, Saturday’s Class L final between Daniel Hand and St. Joseph, the respective top two teams in the state. The winner will undoubtedly occupy the top spot.
“Our goal has been the same since day one, win the third ring,” Pagliarini said.
St. Joseph could become the first school to win consecutive titles in three different classes. It was the Class S champion two years ago and won Class M last season.
Pagliarini and DaSilva lead the team in tackles, with 88 and 78, respectively. DaSilva has 7.5 sacks. They are helped by a decorated front line led by Mike Morrissey, Jermaine Williams and Cayden Porter, and Davee Silas in the secondary.
“It’s the front three,” DaSilva said. “They put in all the work, especially getting those tackles, freeing up lanes for the backers. Davee coming up off the edge too. It’s a big help. That front seven is pretty dominant.”
Pagliarini expressed the same appreciation for the defensive line.
“Those front three, Mike, Cayden and Whop (Williams), they open up lanes for us linebackers, me, Cole and Denny,” Pagliarini said. “They do all the hard work and we just go through open lanes and make all the plays.”
St. Joseph gave up a season-high 14 points in back to back wins during the regular season against Wilton and New Canaan — ironically the same teams it again defeated the last two weeks to reach the final.
In the first meeting, the Warriors scored two quick touchdowns. Though the Cadets had a comfortable lead, Della Vecchia said at the time it was the first time his team had to deal with an adverse situation.
“Going into the huddle we said listen guys, 14 points, that’s unacceptable to us,” DaSilva recalled. “Last year per game we were giving up three points at the end of the season and it was our goal to make it no points. Seeing those doughnuts up on the board, those are big for us.”
So what do the Cadets do when they fail to record a shutout?
“We go back to film the next day, say what do we need to improve on and then the next day we are back in practice trying to fix it,” Pagliarini said.
Saturday will be the first championship game between the state’s two top teams in 14 years.
“We’re excited,” DaSilva said. “One and 0 every week, that’s our goal. It’s the same every week.”