By Dave Ruden
WILTON — It was early in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s game against St. Joseph when Bruce Cunningham started yelling furiously at one of his wide receivers.
The player’s crime: going back into the game on his own after sustaining an injury.
It was a metaphor for Wilton’s season and the makeup of his personnel.
In a game that played out exactly to storyline, the Warriors stayed close with the Cadets for a half before being worn down in what would become a 44-20 loss.
Wilton dressed just 27 players and lost several starters to injury. Cunningham may not have been happy with the outcome, but he basked in his team’s effort.
“There is no question, they gave everything,” Cunningham said. “We fought until they took it out of us. They wore us down. They always had an answer.”
Those are the words that will be repeated often this fall from opposing coaches unable to keep up with the Cadets’ size and talent.
St. Joseph (5-0) got off to another slow start —it was held scoreless until early in the second quarter, and led by just 16-14 after Wilton (3-2) drove 69 yards in six plays with the second-half kickoff — before erupting.
The Cadets’ scored their final four touchdowns in a span of just under 10 minutes.
“I think we lost focus a little bit at first,” said St. Joseph quarterback Jordan Vazzano. “It is good that we turned it around because that’s a very good team. They played hard until the end of the game.”
Vazzano completed 15 of 27 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns.
“I think we wore them down,” Vazzano said. “We had a couple of big stops in the second half. The defense played great, the line played great. We’re in a nice groove but I’d like to see us pick it up more in the first half. We got lucky that we turned it around in the second half. Luck doesn’t always fall your way.”
St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia had a few choice words for his players in the opening quarter, after they turned the ball over on downs at the Wilton 19 on the opening possession and fumbled the ball away on the Warriors’ 1-yard line on the second.
The next time the Cadets got the ball, Vazzano led them on a 10-play, 85-yard drive, culminating in Vazzano’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Mark Hirschbeck.
“I didn’t think we came out with the fire and passion we should have,” Della Vecchia said. “Wilton came out with the fire. We have to learn that we can’t do that. We have too much ahead of us.”
A fumbled snap out of the end zone by Wilton gave the Cadets a 9-0 lead, which was extended on the first of Mufasa Abdul-Basir’s two touchdown runs.
Wilton answered back with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Brett Phillips to Jack Dexter late in the first half. Phillips hit Patrick Ryan for a 17-yard score to start the third quarter.
Then St. Joseph’s size and the Warriors’ lack of depth combined to bring the story back on the expected narrative.
“We do have a lot of kids,” Della Vecchia said. “Wilton gave everything they had. But we’re two-platoon except for a few kids.”
Abdul-Basir finished with 142 yards on 18 carries.
Quarterback Brett Phillips played well again for Wilton (3-2), going 13-of-23 for 186 yards.
Actually the Warriors got contributions from everyone Cunningham put out onto the field until there was nothing left.
“That kid was hard to stop,” Cunningham said.
When asked which St. Joseph player he was referring to, Cunningham smiled and said, “All of them.”
ST. JOSEPH 44, WILTON 20
ST. JOSEPH 0 16 14 14—44
WILTON 0 7 7 6—20
SJ—Mark Hirschbeck, 3 pass from Jordan Vazzano (Kevin Bortnick kick)
SJ— Safety, ball fumbled out of end zone
SJ—Abdul-Basir, 11 run (Bortnick kick)
W—Jack Dexter, 2 pass from Brett Phillips (EJ Sassani kick)
W— Patrick Ryan, 17 pass from Phillips (Sassani kick)
SJ—Shane Miller, 28 pass from Vazzano (Bortnick kick)
SJ—Abdul-Basir, 3 run (Bortnick kick)
SJ—Joey Civitella, 2 run (Bortnick kick)
SJ—Alex Pinto, 18 pass from Vazzano (Bortnick kick)
W—Andrew Sakamoto, 1 run (kick failed)