class m football semifinal St. Joseph’s defense, not offense, may be the key to beating Killingly
TRUMBULL — The equation going into one half of the Class M semifinal bracket seems fairly straightforward.
Top-seeded St. Joseph scores a lot of points.
Fourth-seeded Killingly scores even more points.
Therefore, it stands to reason, the victor on Sunday afternoon at Trumbull High will need to put up a big number on the scoreboard to advance.
“I don’t know how many touchdowns it will take,” Cadets coach Joe DellaVecchia said Thursday afternoon at practice. “Both teams score points.”
That might be understating it.
The Cadets — who won Class S in 2017 — average a shade over 38 points per game. Defending Class M champion Killingly is even better, scoring over 42 points per game including a high-water mark of 76 in a victory over Waterford on October 19.
“As an offense we just want to go fast-paced and have fun,” Cadets junior running back Jaden Shirden said. “They score a bunch of points. Our job is to keep it up.”
The offenses on display at McDougall Stadium will be a contrast in styles. St. Joseph moves the ball through air behind Maryland-commit David Summers. The senior quarterback has used top receivers Will Diamantis and Jesse Bike to help pile up 1,959 yards with 29 touchdowns.
By contrast, Killingly (10-1) is a run-first team, relying on Nsaish Harriet and Jackson Lopes to average close to 280 yards per game on the ground.
“I always like to score first and have the other team play a game of chase,” DellaVecchia said. “We want to get up two scores and let them chase us.”
The overshadowed St. Joseph defense may share the spotlight on Sunday, too. The Cadets have only allowed 61 points, including a shutout of Class LL semifinalist New Canaan on opening night. St. Joseph also posted a stretch of four straight shutouts in late September and early October. The only blemish for St. Joseph is a 22-7 loss to Darien in September — the most points the Cadets have allowed in a single game.
Seven starters from last year’s Class S championship team return for St. Joseph, including the core trio of junior linemen Jermaine Williams, Michael Morrissey and Cayden Porter.
“We get overlooked a lot because (the offense is) so good. Our goal is to shut everyone out that we play,” senior safety Ace Luzietti said. “It helps us a lot going against them in practice every day, that’s for sure.”
Playing in the now-pass heavy FCIAC, St. Joseph hasn’t faced a team that runs the ball quite as much as Killingly. It means the Cadets are in the midst of a four-day crash course to prep for the semifinals.
“All summer you work on 7-on-7s,” Luzietti said. “You never do anything for running teams. It’s a lot different. It’s a hard adjustment, but we’ll be ready.”
DellaVechia said playing against Ansonia and Rocky Hill — both run-heavy squads — in last year’s Class S tournament is helpful experience to drawn upon. He also mentioned that the St. Joseph defense will need to prevent Killingly for milking the clock or force turnovers to get the ball back to the offense.
“We have to be patient and get the stops when we can and capitalize when we have the ball,” DellaVecchia said.
Beyond the high-scoring offenses, Sunday’s semifinal features the added wrinkle of two defending state champions squaring off, due in part to to the CIAC’s new success modifier for “schools of choice.” The new rule helped move St. Joseph from Class S to M.
“The best teams are left in every bracket. I know there’s a big deal made of where we are and stuff like that,” DellaVecchia said. “We play by the same rules as everybody else.”