TRUMBULL — If this Class M semifinal against Killingly was considered a major test for the St. Joseph football team, the Cadets finished and handed it in quicker than Einstein would have completed a times tables quiz.
In the first half the Cadets scored on five of their first six possessions while completely shutting down Killingly’s renowned running game. A little more than 20 minutes in, the Cadets had a 31-point lead and went on to earn an A+ with a 52-7 victory that landed them in the state finals for the seventh time in 10 years.
“I didn’t think it would be easy,” St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia said. “That’s a (SCC-II) championship team, but I thought we’d be OK if we could move the ball against them and make plays on defense.”
The Cadets moved the ball and made plays on defense, all right. With quarterback David Summers completing 12 of 21 pass attempts for 305 yards and four touchdowns and Jaden Shirden rushing for 118 yards and two TDs, while adding another receiving score, the Cadets had no trouble finding the answers on offense.
Killingly could not stop Summers and the passing game but the Cadets outgained the Redmen on the ground (179-141) on fewer attempts (16 compared to 39). The defense, led by Mike Morrissey, Alex Pagliarini, Cole DaSilva and Jermaine Williams, shut down one of the state’s top rushing teams.
The result means St. Joseph (11-1), the top seed, will meet tomorrow’s Sheehan-Berlin winner in Saturday’s Class M final at a site and time to be announced.
Killingly (10-2), seeded fourth, finally scored in the fourth quarter against the Cadets’ reserves, but until that point the team that averaged 43 points per game and close to 300 yards on the ground had just 112 rushing yards on 34 attempts and no points. The Redmen were consistently stymied on short-yardage plays, including two critical fourth-down tries in the second quarter.
“The defense has been doing it all year,” Della Vecchia said of the unit that had allowed an average of 5½ points per game this season. “On fourth down, they have an attitude that we’re just going to stop them.”
“We really came together today on defense,” added Williams, a first-team All-FCIAC nose tackle. “Stopping them twice on fourth downs was really big.”
St. Joseph took a quick 17-0 lead on a 30-yard field goal by Luke Kirby, Summers’ 44-yard pass to Brady Hutchison (five receptions for 110 yards and two TDs, all in the first half) and a 14-yard scamper by Shirden.
So, already in a deep hole that the Redmen had not been used to — their one loss was by one point — they decided to go for a fourth-and-1 at their own 31 early in the second quarter. But 6-4 running back Nsaiah Harriet was met by a stone wall of Cadet defenders for a loss of two yards. Seven plays later it was Summers to Hutchison from 17 yards out and a 24-0 lead.
“We’re really clicking now,” said Hutchison, who missed much of the season with a shoulder injury, about his timing with Summers. “These last few weeks, with playoff time coming up, we needed to focus and now our chemistry is just right.”
On Killingly’s next possession, it was a fourth-and-2 from the St. Joseph 19. This time it was Redmen back Jackson Lopes who was hit by Morrissey and stopped for no gain. On the next play Shirden broke free and raced 81 yards with 1:28 remaining in the half for a 31-point lead.
“The defense stopping them on fourth down twice was huge,” the University of Maryland-bound Summers said. “It was a big momentum changer and we just went from there.”
“It was a great job by the defense,” Della Vecchia added. “The kids were ready, they studied Killingly hard and really bought into it. They showed a lot of pride.”
Nothing changed in the second half as the Cadets scored on their first two possessions while the Redmen went 3-and-out on theirs. First came a Summers to Will Diamantis 25-yard score before Summers and Shirden hooked up on a 76-yard screen play.
Harriet had 13 rushes for 74 yards but 39, including the final two into the end zone, came on Killingly’s lone scoring drive against the Cadets’ second team.
St. Joseph’s Darren Warren completed the scoring with a 40-yard run midway through the fourth quarter, leaving the Cadets one more test away from back-to-back state titles (they won the Class S crown last year).
“This was definitely one of our best games,” Summers said. “Coach won’t be able to find much to get on us about.”
“We just keep it going, and working hard because we want the rest of the state to know how good we are,” Shirden added. “If we can win Saturday and go back-to-back, oh boy, that would be just wonderful.”