By Dave Ruden
TRUMBULL — St. Joseph’s Mufasa Abdul-Basir had just capped off the opening drive of the second half with a 2-yard touchdown run, tying a pivotal FCIAC showdown with Darien at 14-14.
Blue Wave coach Rob Trifone rose from a crouch, saw a reporter on the sideline and said, “If they didn’t have him, we could stop them.”
Unfortunately for Trifone, the Cadets do, and the Blue Wave couldn’t.
In an example of their diversity on offense and punishing line play, the Cadets went to the ground to overcome a 14-7 deficit with three unanswered second-half scores to rally for a 28-14 homecoming win.
In a battle of undefeated teams, St. Joseph improved to 4-0 and seem headed on a collision course with New Canaan in four weeks in what will be the most anticipated conference game of the regular season.
“During halftime we kind of had a conversation on what our job was,” Abdul-Basir said. “We came out in the first half and we were kind of flat. In the second half we came out and did our thing.”
Trifone thought the key to the game was going to be putting pressure on St. Joseph quarterback Jordan Vazzano. His schemes produced two first-half sacks and took the Cadets out of their rhythm.
The Cadets adjusted, and made Abdul-Basir the focus of their game plan. He finished with 202 yards on 25 carries and two scores.
“We felt we could run the ball so we just kept feeding Mufasa,” St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia said. “We feel we have a very underrated offensive line. If we have to throw, we’ll throw, if we have to run, we’ll run. We’ll do anything we have to do to win the game.”
The Cadets had 912 yards passing in their first three games, but also 471 rushing, including 238 last week against Ridgefield.
So the method of victory may have been a little more unexpected than surprising.
“He makes their offense hum,” Trifone said of Abdul-Basir. “That’s not to take anything away from anybody else. Vazzano is the real deal and their receivers are awfully good. In my opinion, (Abdul-Basir) was the key to the game. We couldn’t stop him.”
The Blue Wave (3-1) impressed in the first half. Their play on both lines this year has been outstanding, and that continued before halftime on Saturday. Mark Evanchick sacked Vazzano twice, and Darien had 116 yards rushing, including two short scoring runs by Jay Harrison.
St. Joseph took the ball to start the second half and drove 80 yards in 12 plays — eight runs and four passes.
Darien seemed on the verge of responding as it drove down to the Cadets’ 4-yard line. It was stopped on the first three plays as the third quarter ended, and Trifone was going to bring out Daly Hebert, one of the state’s top kickers, to attempt a go-ahead field goal.
Trifone changed his mind during the break, and an errant pass on a halfback-option play gave both the ball and momentum back to St. Joseph.
“I wouldn’t change a decision I made all game long,” said Trifone, also referring to an incomplete pass by quarterback Silas Wyper on a fourth-and-4 situation from the Darien 49 with just over eight minutes remaining. “If you execute then it looks good.”
St. Joseph got an insurance score on Vazzano’s second 1-yard touchdown keeper of the day, but it was the Cadets’ go-ahead score that was the most dazzling, and showcased Abdul-Basir’s skills.
From the Darien 19, he sped toward the right corner of the end zone, tip-toed around the 3 to stay in bounds, then quickly spun around to avoid a defender.
“I kind of had to make a play,” Abdul-Basir said. “Darien’s a tough, physical team every year, so it was either make it or break it.”
Wyper was just 12 of 28 for 95 yards, though he led the Blue Wave with 74 yards rushing. Darien finished with 156 yards on the ground but just 40 in the second half.
“This victory makes us believe we can go all the way this year,” Abdul-Basir said.
ST. JOSEPH 28, DARIEN 14
DARIEN 7 7 0 0—14
ST. JOSEPH 0 7 14 7—28
D—Jay Harrison 1 run (Daly Hebert kick)
SJ—Jordan Vazzano, 1 run (Kevin Bortnick kick)
D—Harrison, 2 run (Hebert kick)
SJ—Mufasa Abdul-Basir, 2 run (Bortnick kick)
SJ—Abdul-Basir, 19 run (Bortnick kick)
SJ—Vazzano, 1 run (Bortnick kick)
Records: Darien 3-1; St. Joseph 4-0