If the accident involving one of the buses carrying the St. Joseph football team had happened closer to New Canaan High School, its destination, rather than Bridgeport, there is a good chance last Friday’s season-opening game would have been postponed.
Fortunately, despite a crash where both a car and the Cadets’ bus were totaled, there were no injuries. And through a team communication system, another bus was sent, one carrying the cheerleaders was re-routed, and parents stopped on I-95 to pick up players and coaches.
It had to be one of the more unusual caravans to a game.
After St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia was assured his players and staff were safe, the secondary concern was his team’s mental fitness for the game against the Rams, ranked No. 1 in the first state writers’ poll.
That question was quickly answered when the Cadets jumped out to a 21-0 first-half lead, withstood a comeback that saw them fall behind, 28-24, and rebounded for a 38-35 win that was the talk of the league on week one.
“The word it out there, everyone has been congratulating me and the guys about the game,” Della Vecchia said yesterday. “We thought we could win the game going in, so I’m not sure how huge of a surprise it is for us. We’ve been working hard in the offseason and felt good during the preseason and felt confident going into the game.”
Perhaps because of the huge exceptions surrounding the Rams, the Cadets got lost in the preseason shuffle despite reaching the Class M final last season (I picked the team just fourth in my league preview and sixth in the state poll). They certainly got the least early attention of the four FCIAC teams that played for a title last December.
“They’re more conscious of what goes on in the media,” Della Vecchia said. “No one talks about us. I think we were picked fifth in our own league and our kids take that more to heart than anybody because it’s them they are talking about. They wanted to prove we’re a good team and we go in every week expecting to win, and when you can beat a team like New Canaan… That’s huge. A program like that. We were fortunate enough to do it. It certainly is a great accomplishment, but we have nine more weeks to go.”
Della Vecchia said he was unsurprised by the mental toughness his players showed once they lost their lead.
“They never flinched, they never panicked,” Della Vecchia said. “We talk about that all the time. We said live for the next play. I think this group really takes that to heart. We are a system team and there are a lot of checks we do, and they do a good job recognizing things. They are really educated in the game.”
The Cadets came in on a bit of a see-saw, one everyone agreed could win the Class S title (they dropped down this year), but one also in danger of not making the playoffs because of a schedule that includes the two Class LL finalists, Darien and Ridgefield, in the first five weeks.
Perhaps by that time, people will be talking about St. Joseph as the league school with the best chance to finish No. 1.
With a trip to Darien in two weeks, Della Vecchia was cautious. The Cadets have their home opener Saturday against Fairfield Warde.
“We know we have a real difficult schedule coming up and it will mean nothing if we don’t have this week,” Della Vecchia said.
Putting Up The Points
Darien’s 38-12 win over Ridgefield looked particularly impressive because of the numbers compiled against a defense that was returning nine starters.
As it turned out, only two victorious league teams won with fewer points. If there was a secondary theme to week one, it was the way scoreboard operators were kept on a constant state of alert.
Normally Norwalk’s 68-57 non-league win over Hamden — this was football, not basketball — would have been good for the top spot until Greenwich followed the next day with a 70-16 win over Trumbull. Staples scored 52 points, Westhill was good for 50, Wilton put up 42 and St. Joseph tied the Blue Wave with its 38.
Is this a developing theme or aberration? Time will tell.
1. Darien (1-0). So much — so far — for a slight tumble by the Blue Wave. The lines might not be as dominant as a year ago, but that is an unrealistic expectation. Jack Joyce provided an added dynamic with his running ability at quarterback. He threw the ball well too. The return of Charlie Zuro, who has transferred back to the school, bolsters both lines.
2. St. Joseph (1-0). The game against Darien in two weeks now looks even bigger.
3. New Canaan (0-1). The Rams showed some flaws and Lou Marinelli must wait until Friday night at Danbury to try and become the winningest coach in state history. Now the goal is 12 straight wins.
4. Greenwich (1-0). Cardinals coach John Marinelli offered the “you are never as good as you look” line after a stunning 54-point win over Trumbull. Perhaps, but Greenwich looks like it can be pretty good.
5. Ridgefield (0-1). The Tigers’ offense was surprisingly out of synch against Darien. Maybe that was due to the Blue Wave having one of the state’s best secondaries. We are not ready to jump off the Ridgefield bandwagon yet; there is too much talent on the roster.