Way before the state playoffs started this week, a Class S final between St. Joseph and Ansonia was considered the biggest postseason lock.
Cadets coach Joe Della Vecchia unsurprisingly never viewed it that way.
“We haven’t discussed anything down the road,” Della Vecchia said. “Our goal is to get to the championship and we’re one step away now. We’ve been focused on who we are playing each week. We haven’t discussed anybody other than our opponents. That’s the way we’ve always been and we’re always going to do that.”
The matchup fans have expected and would most like to see is now on the precipice of becoming reality. First, St. Joseph has to get by Rocky Hill in Sunday’s semifinals. Ansonia plays Stafford Co-Op on the other half of the draw.
The Terriers are 11-0 and, Della Vecchia said, will try to win with strength and execution.
“They’re just a power team, they come right at you,” Della Vecchia said. “They pull a few guys and they have a fullback who leads through the hole. They come right at you so we have to be physical. They have two backs, they are very patient, very hard runners. We have to slow that down and we have to be able to keep scoring.”
Putting up points has been the Cadets’ trademark the past decade, and despite some changes in personnel this year the offense has remained explosive. St. Joseph (10-1), the No. 2 seed, has scored 501 points this season and is coming off a 62-0 quarterfinal win over O’Brien Tech.
The Condors were playing in the state playoffs for the first time. St. Joseph broke the game open early and was able to rest it starters in the second half, an asset after playing Trumbull in the final game of the regular season five days earlier.
“We have healed a little bit with the quick turnaround, which helps,” Della Vecchia said. That’s one advantage of it. We still had to show up and be mentally prepared. O’Brien Tech played hard the entire day, so hats off to them. They played as hard as they could.”
St. Joseph’s offensive pieces — quarterback David Summers, running back Jaden Shirden and receivers Jared Mallozzi and Philip Pasmeg — have been well publicized. The team has scored at least 38 points in every game except for its one loss, to Darien.
The Cadets’ defense has received much less acclaim despite doing a solid job, especially over the last month, giving up 28 points in the last five games.
Della Vecchia said that unit has made the greatest strides since the beginning of the season.
“I think defensively we’ve gotten better each week,” Della Vecchia said. “The kids got more comfortable in their positions, knowing what to do and what to expect and things like that. We’ve been playing really well on both sides of the ball.”
One standout, overshadowed by the weapons on offense, has been linebacker Jude Andrzejewski, who leads the team in tackles.
“He’s had a great year for us,” Della Vecchia said. “We play him in a variety of spots. We move him around. He handles everything really well. He started as a sophomore. He’s able to play inside on the line if we need him, or inside or outside linebacker.”
Della Vecchia said he has been pleased by the balance this season.
“We’ve always been able to score some points the last 10 or 12 years or so but defensively the kids have played well,” Della Vecchia said. “They get after it at practice. We’re two-platoon, which helps us.”
As for that potential final with Ansonia, Della Vecchia and his players are not deviating from their mindset.
“People can say what they want but we know we have a good opponent to face on Sunday and that’s where our energy is right now,” Della Vecchia said.