CHESHIRE – There was one word on the minds of every St. Joseph Cadet as the third quarter unfolded in last night’s Class S state football championship game against Ansonia.
It was two months ago that St. Joseph pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in school history, rallying from 25 points down to beat Ridgefield in a battle of 2016 state finalists. And it was that word — that game — that helped provide the necessary spark last night when the Cadets were forced to pull off another miracle.
After undefeated and defending Class S champ Ansonia scored on the opening possession of the second half to take a 21-point lead, everyone on the St. Joseph sideline began shouting or thinking “Ridgefield.” After that, in the span of 10 minutes and 40 seconds, the Cadets scored four consecutive touchdowns to take the lead and eventually hung on for a memorable 42-36 victory at Cheshire High School.
“We kept our heads up because it was obvious to us that anything was possible after that Ridgefield game,” Cadets receiver/linebacker Phil Pasmeg said after he and quarterback David Summers led the amazing comeback. “We were pretty depressed trailing 28-7 early in the third quarter, but we knew we couldn’t give up.”
“Yes,” Cadets coach Joe Della Vecchia said after the Cadets captured the school’s 13th state crown and fifth since 2009, “the word ‘Ridgefield’ did come up a lot after halftime.”
The Chargers took a 22-7 halftime lead thanks to a typical performance by All-State running back Markell Dobbs, who is headed to Central Connecticut next fall. Dobbs finished with 248 yards rushing on 38 carries and three TDs and had 125 yards on 23 attempts before halftime.
“Dobbs is a fantastic player and we were pretty depressed trailing 28-7 early in the third quarter,” said Pasmeg, who was one of the Cadets’ best players on defense yesterday. “But Summers and I keep our heads up and told everybody to remember Ridgefield.”
After Ansonia quarterback Justin Lopez ran 13 yards for a score on the second half’s fifth play to give the top-seeded Chargers (12-1) a 28-7 lead, any life should have left the Cadets. That’s what would’ve happened to most teams. But most teams couldn’t draw from that October day when Ridgefield saw a 35-10 fourth-quarter lead disappear when the Cadets scored four consecutive touchdowns to win.
This time the No. 2-seeded Cadets (12-1) scored three touchdowns in the span of 5:45 to tie the game. A 10-yard Summers-to-Will Diamantis touchdown pass made it 28-14 with 5:27 remaining in the third quarter. After an Ansonia punt, Summers (14 for 26 for 246 yards and five touchdowns) hit Pasmeg (three receptions for 110 yards and two touchdowns) from 70 yards out to make it a one-score game.
Then, after Lopez fumbled on his own 11, it was Summers to Jesse Bike on the next play to tie it.
“I knew at halftime if we played our game we could get right back in it,” said Summers, who finished the season with 3,208 yards passing, 49 touchdowns and five interceptions.
But this was Ansonia, and the Cadets still needed to find a way to at least limit Dobbs, who averaged more than 14 yards per carry during the season and finished his senior year with 2,211 yards and 38 touchdowns. A curious call by Ansonia coach Tom Brockett deep in St. Joseph territory would eventually put his team in a hole for the first time all season.
Ace Luzietti intercepted a halfback option pass by Dobbs and the Cadets took over at their own 9. Seven plays later it was Jaden Shirden’s turn.
The sophomore running back, who had 1,006 yards rushing coming into the state final, had just three net yards rushing on six attempts to that point. But he broke free for a 58-yard touchdown run, giving the Cadets a 35-28 lead with 6:47 remaining in the game. It was the first of three touchdowns in the span of 52 seconds.
“It got really wild there for a while,” Della Vecchia said.
On Ansonia’s first play after Shirden’s touchdown, it was Dobbs’ turn again. He took off on a 75-yard run and then added the two-point conversion to give Ansonia a 36-35 lead.
Two plays after that Summers and Jared Mallozzi finally hit paydirt. The Chargers did a fine job covering the Cadets’ all-state receiver for much of the game but on this play Mallozzi went 56 yards for what proved to be the winning touchdown.
“It hit me that this was the last game for the seniors,” said Summers, a junior who transferred from Fairfield Warde last year. “Coming to St. Joe’s was the best decision of my life and we had to finish this.”
Summers was just 4 for 10 for 58 yards at halftime when the Cadets had just 84 total yards to Ansonia’s 221. But he had 190 yards and four scores during the great comeback . . . when the coach kept repeating the magic word.
“I told Summers at halftime to settle down and told him that he had great receivers around him,” Della Vecchia said, referring to Mallozzi (three receptions for 75 yards) Pasmeg and Diamantis (5-32). “And I kept reminding him, and everybody else, that Ridgefield did that to us, too.”
So now, considering yesterday’s circumstances — state championship game against the defending champs that had won 25 in a row — the Ridgefield comeback will slip back to the second greatest of 2017.
“All of (the championships) are special but this one is unbelievable,” said Della Vecchia, who, along with many of his players, had to wipe away tears of joy after the game. “To come back against a team like that, it’s really unbelievable. “I’m ready to rock and roll all night long.”