To say Saturday’s Class S state championship game between St. Joseph and Ansonia looms as a contrast in styles would be a huge understatement. The two teams almost seem as if they are playing different sports.
One, St. Joseph, runs a modern-day, spread offense that features a hurry-up, no-huddle, pass-happy attack.
The other, Ansonia, utilizes an old-time, smash-face, grind-it-out, ground-oriented approach. It’s the 1950s vs. today.
But despite the obvious differences, these teams have two major characteristics in common. One, they ring up more touchdowns than just about every team in the state, and two, they are quite used to playing for a CIAC championship, which the teams will be doing again on Saturday at 11 a.m. at West Haven High School.
“Ansonia is always there,” St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia said, referring to Ansonia’s 31st trip to the state finals in 42 years (20 championships, 10 runners-up). “The names change but the results don’t. It’s a typical Ansonia team.”
The No. 1-seeded Chargers (12-0) are led by running backs Markell Dobbs, who has rushed for 2,063 yards and 35 touchdowns this season, and Darwin Amaya (899 yards,16 TDs). Both backs average 14 yards per carry and the team passes an average of four times per game, while rushing the ball 32 times per game, so this Charger squad doesn’t look much different than any of the 30 state finalists that came before it.
But it’s also a typical St. Joseph team, which is making its sixth trip to the finals in nine years and its 16th overall (12 championships). The Cadets play the same way they have since Della Vecchia arrived, but this time the No. 2 Cadets (11-1) are led by a new quarterback, transfer David Summers.
Summers has adjusted well and thrown for 2,962 yards and 44 touchdowns, with just four interceptions. The Cadets relied on quarterback Corey Babineau last year when they lost the Class M final, 42-21, to Hillhouse, but didn’t miss a beat this year with Summers, who came over from Fairfield Warde.
“David is a confident kid and he showed that in his first game this season when we beat the No. 1 team in the state,” Della Vecchia said of a win over New Canaan. “He understands what we’re trying to do and is a real student of the game. He stepped right in and it was a smooth transition.”
It certainly helped Summers that the Cadets had a good number of returning starters surrounding him, led by wide receiver Jared Mallozzi. Mallozzi, who scored three touchdowns in last year’s state final, has caught 70 balls this season for 965 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“After losing (Babineau) our offense opened its arms to David,” Mallozzi said. “Dave and I really clicked right away and the same with the other receivers, too. He helped us; we helped him and we just kept getting better. Big-time players step up for St. Joe’s and David is ready for this game.”
Like many other seniors, Mallozzi wants to wipe away the bad taste of last year’s loss in the final.
“This is huge for me as a senior,” Mallozzi said. “After last year we spent the whole year wanting to get back here. We have to fill the shoes of the players who came before us and last year we didn’t quite make it.”
And now only Ansonia stands in their way . . . ONLY Ansonia.
“We kind of knew we’d get Ansonia in the final,” Mallozzi said. “But that’s fine. There’s nothing better than to play one of the best teams in the state in the final.”
Ansonia defeated No. 8 Seymour, 51-16, in the quarterfinals before routing No. 5 Stafford/East Windsor/Somers, 52-19, in the semis. The Chargers, going for their fifth state title in seven years, have outscored opponents, 634-107, or an average of 53-9.
St. Joseph, meanwhile, beat No. 7 O’Brien Tech, 62-0, and No. 3 Rocky Hill, 49-20, to get here and have outscored opponents, 550-214, an average of 46-16.
One advantage for St. Joseph on Saturday may be that the Cadets seem to have more balance on offense: sophomore running back Jaden Shirden rushed for 1,006 yards and 18 touchdowns while Ansonia quarterback Justin Lopez has attempted just 47 passes, completing 24 for 653 yards.
On the other hand, the Cadets’ defense didn’t get to see many ground-oriented offenses during the regular season, although that changed in the postseason.
“In our two playoff games we faced teams who like to run the ball and are very physical,” Della Vecchia said. “So, we’re tested.”
If the Cadets have to come from behind, Summers, Mallozzi and fellow receivers Phil Pasmeg (78 receptions, 746 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Will Diamantis (40-557-8) are capable of pulling that off. Ansonia, meanwhile, has never had to come from behind all season. The Chargers’ only “close” game was a 46-28 victory over Naugatuck on Thanksgiving Day.
“We like to play out in front,” Della Vecchia said. “They have a great back so we want to score early and get the jump on them and make them throw.”
“Our versatility on offense sure helps us,” Mallozzi added. “But we really want to get up on them early.”
One final tangible to consider: the schedule. Ansonia played one Class LL team (Naugatuck) and one Class L team (Kennedy) this season. St. Joseph, on the other hand, faced eight LL teams and two L teams, and one of the L schools was four-time defending state champ New Canaan. St. Joseph’s only loss was to undefeated Darien, which will be playing Greenwich for the Class LL championship Saturday.
“We were worried about getting in (the Class S playoffs),” Della Vecchia said. “Two losses and it’s basically impossible to get in the Class S playoffs. We had a tough schedule but we did it.”