SHELTON — The irony was obvious when St. Joseph’s standout nose tackle Jermaine Williams described the goal of his — or any — defensive unit.
“Our job is to keep the other offense off the field so our offense can get back on the field,” Williams said after today’s Class M state championship football game against Berlin.
During a 14-minute stretch in the first half, David Summers and the St. Joseph offense were on the field for less than three minutes, but it wasn’t the team’s defense that failed.
The “problem” was that the Cadets’ offense was nearly perfect, scoring seven touchdowns on 12 plays from scrimmage during that time. Yes, the 49-point half did leave the Cadets’ defense on the field longer than it had been all season, and eventually turned into a most impressive 70-18 victory.
“We were so focused during the week preparing for this game,” St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia said after the 12-1 Cadets won their second consecutive state title and sixth in 10 years. “We were ready to go, and were lights out on offense in the first half.”
Summers completed 13 of 16 passes for 332 yards and four touchdowns before halftime, most of which came during those 12 plays. Over all, the senior quarterback finished 17 for 24 for 369 yards and six touchdowns, while adding one rushing score. That boosted Summers’ season totals to 2,633 yards and 39 touchdown passes in 12 games.
“I played well but it was because of the players around me,” Summers said. “(Receivers) Will (Diamantis), Brady (Hutchison) and Jesse (Bike) caught everything, and (running back) Jayden (Shirden) and the offensive line were great. It was by far the best we’ve played this year.”
Keep in mind this was not a regular-season lopsided victory against a middling FCIAC opponent. This was the state final against a Berlin team (11-2) that earlier this season defeated Class S champion Bloomfield. The Cadets swept three straight in the postseason, outscoring opponents, 171-32.
“I thought we’d be able to move the ball against them,” Della Vecchia said. “But not quite like this.”
All three wide receivers caught two touchdowns. Bike had four receptions for 162 yards, Diamantis had five for 146 and Hutchison added seven for 63.
And Shirden, who along with Diamantis and Hutchison will return to the offense next season, rushed for 167 yards on 10 carries and scored three touchdowns.
“It was our passion that made the difference today,” Shirden said. “Everybody was fired up. It was just an outstanding effort. I wished for something like 49-0 at halftime to happen, and it actually did.”
After stopping Berlin on its first possession, the Cadets took a while to finally score. And they did it with an exclamation point, converting on a fourth-and-goal from the 9 on a Summers to Hutchison play. St. Joseph has one of the best kickers in the state in Luke Kirby and could have easily accepted a 26-yard field and a 3-0 lead, but it was time to make a statement.
“We were a little antsy at the start but once we converted that fourth down play we were fine,” Summers said. “We were really confident and wanted to set the tone on that first drive.”
Starting with that play, what happened during the next 14 minutes was amazing to say the least. On the first play after a Berlin punt, Shirden raced 59 yards for a score. After Berlin’s next punt, it was Shirden scoring from five yards out on the second play of the possession, after a 41-yard Summers to Diamantis pass play.
Then, on the first play following the first of two interceptions by Jesse Lawson, Summers hit Bike from 15 yards out for a 28-0 lead.
Berlin then put together a nice drive but it ended on downs at the Cadets’ 10. On the first play Shirden ran 90 yards for a score. That was five touchdowns on six plays.
On the Cadets’ next possession, it took all of three plays. Summers and Diamantis hooked up on a 26-yard scoring play for a 42-0 lead, and then it took another three plays before Summers ran it in from two yards out after connecting with Diamantis on a 43-yard play.
“Summers has had quite a year,” Della Vecchia said. “He’s had a weight on his shoulder after getting the scholarship offer from the University of Maryland. He’s had a lot to think about with all that has gone on there. But the last three or four weeks he really turned it on.”
The defense, which had allowed just six points per game coming into the state final, had a hiccup in the first five minutes of the second half when Berlin scored twice. Redcoat quarterback Kevin Dunn hit Alex Halkias for a 60-yard score on their first possession of the half, and then ran it in himself the second time they had it.
“We fell asleep in the third quarter,” said Williams, who is another key Cadet who will be back next season. “But we realized it wasn’t over and took care of business.”
Summers went back to work, connecting with Hutchison and Diamantis for scores before Shirden’s 28-yard run made it 70-12.
Halkias ran 62 yards against the Cadets’ second-teamers to close out the scoring.
“Winning back to back — the Cadets won the Class S title last season — is a really hard thing to do, especially when you have a target on your back,” Della Vecchia said after getting Gatorade dumped on him. “I guess if you get a Gatorade bath, something good happened.”
NOTES: Shirden finished with 1,378 rushing yards this season and 26 touchdowns. Diamantis had 44 catches for 1,017 yards and 15 scores. … So much for the time of possession stat. Berlin had the ball for close to 10 minutes longer than the Cadets. … St. Joseph had 556 total yards on 48 plays compared to Berlin’s 352 on 70 snaps. … Berlin, which won the Class M title in 2009, was making its fifth finals appearance in 12 years. St. Joseph has one runner-up finish to go with the six titles since 2009.