By Dave Ruden
PLANTSVILLE — Jordan Vazzano vividly remembers St. Joseph High School’s last appearance in a state championship game, four years ago, a 49-28 win over Ansonia.
“It was awesome,” Vazzano said. “It was my freshman year so I didn’t play. The atmosphere and everything was incredible. Just being able to go on the field. Now to be able to play is a great feeling.”
The Cadets are back, in the Class M final, on Saturday morning, meeting Brookfield, with the chance to run their record to 11 straight wins in the title game since 1980.
Vazzano, though his role has been reduced slightly through no fault of his own, is a big reason why.
“He’s done a good job as a leader,” St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia said on Wednesday, during the CIAC’s state football media day. “He’s become more vocal this year than in the past. He’s really confident out there and done a really good job.”
The Cadets are 12-2 this season and reached the FCIAC final for the first time in school history. There only losses have come against New Canaan, another state finalist.
Vazzano has thrown for 2,897 yards and 37 touchdowns for an offense that has been one of the most proficient in CIAC playoff history. The Cadets have scored 146 points in wins over Ledyard, when they put up 84, and Joel Barlow. Include the final regular season game against Trumbull, when they scored 61, and the Cadets have averaged a mind-boggling 69 points since losing to the Rams in the conference final.
“The offense has been playing amazing,” Vazzano said. “We’ve been scoring extremely quickly. I think it’s hard for the defense because they don’t get a break. It’s pretty cool scoring all those points.”
Ironically, while the Cadets’ numbers have been going up, Vazzano’s passing attempts have decreased. He has thrown the ball just 53 times the past three games.
That change has more to due with the explosiveness of St. Joseph’s running game. Explosive is actually an understatement: the Cadets, led by Mufasha Abdul-Basir, have rushed for 1,547 yards the last three games — a good season for some teams.
“I’m not throwing as much, but if the run works, it works and I’m fine with that,” Vazzano said. “Why start throwing? If we can just run all day, just run all day. Whatever helps the team win is great.”
Della Vecchia said he is content with the Cadets’ balance on offense.
“If we’re in between 20 to 25 passes, I’m good with that, we’re having a pretty good game,” Della Vecchia said. “If it is more that’s not usually good, even though we’re a spread team.”
Vazzano has thrown the ball 40 or more times in a game three times, twice in the losses to New Canaan.
Vazzano said he has lingering memories of last season, when the Cadets were defeated by eventual champion Hillhouse, 34-14, in the first round.
“That was the worst feeling of my sports career,” Vazzano said. “I definitely don’t want to feel that way after the state championship game.”
Vazzano said if the Cadets can maintain their current mindset and execution, his last football memory at the school will end with a special souvenir: a championship ring.
“We have to play our game,” Vazzano said. “If we play our game and stay focused and confident we will be OK. Brookfield is a great team, but I feel everyone’s in a real good groove right now. We’ve been waiting for this since last year. We told each other we’d make it back here and win the whole thing.”
Vazzano said even with a win on Saturday, he won’t leave Arute Field with complete joy.
“It’s my last game at St. Joseph,” he said. “I wouldn’t say there’s any pressure. I’d just say it’s kind of bittersweet that I won’t get to play in the uniform again.”