By Ned Griffen
Special to CIACSports.com
Deep River, Conn. — St. Joseph had just watched Valley Regional/Old Lyme take momentum by scoring on the second play of the second half to take a seven-point lead in Monday’s CIAC Class M semifinal.
The Cadets responded by grabbing momentum back by the throat.
Fifth-seeded St. Joseph scored 28 unanswered points in the second half to beat the top-seeded Warriors, 28-7.
“We’re an intensity team,” Cadets senior co-captain Alec Pelletier said. “Once we get rolling, it’s hard to stop.”
St. Joseph (10-2) advanced to Saturday’s championship game against No. 2 Hillhouse at West Haven High School (10:30 a.m.). Hillhouse topped No. 3 Killingly in its semifinal, 49-28.
The Cadets have won 12 CIAC state championships, second only to Ansonia (19).
The Warriors finished 10-2.
Cory Babineau completed 18 of 29 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns for St. Joseph. Jared Mallozzi had five catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns while Jaden Shirden ran 24 times for 83 yards and a touchdown.
Matt Sapere completed 12 of 36 passes for 226 yards for the Warriors. Garrett Burdick had five catches for 92 yards and O’Brien added three catches for 90 yards. O’Brien also had an interception.
O’Brien caught a 64-yard touchdown from Matt Sapere to give Valley/Old Lyme a 7-0 lead 51 seconds into the second half.
The Cadets came right back. Babineau threw a 21-yard touchdown to Mallozzi to tie the game with 7:17 left in the third quarter.
“It kind of woke us up when they scored,” St. Joseph head coach Joe DellaVecchia said. “To come back and answer right away, that was a big key.”
The Warriors were forced to punt on their next possession. St. Joseph’s Mike DiIorio blocked the punt to give his team the ball at the Warriors’ 5-yard line.
“It was a game-changer,” Pelletier said. “We just have so many guys out there who can make plays.”
Jaden Shirden scored on a 4-yard run two plays later to put the Cadets ahead, 14-7, with 3:38 left in the quarter.
“That blocked punt really hurt because if you make them drive, who knows, maybe they make another mistake,” Valley/Old Lyme head coach Tim King said. “You’ve given them the ball at the 5-yard line plus momentum.
“That really came back to bite us.”
The Warriors were facing third-and-26 from their own 34-yard line on their next drive when Joe Kucky and Pelletier sacked Sapere and forced a fumble.
Jude Andrzejewski returned the fumble to the Valley/Old Lyme 13. He later scored on a 3-yard run to push the Cadets ahead, 21-7, with 16.7 seconds left in the third quarter.
Mallozzi caught a tipped pass for a 27-yard touchdown with over five minutes left in the game to push St. Joseph ahead, 28-7.
St. Joseph 0 0 21 7—28
Valley/Old Lyme 0 0 7 0—7
V/OL—Jason O’Brien 64 pass from Matt Sapere (Garrett Burdick kick)
SJ—Jared Mallozzi 21 pass from Cory Babineau (Luke Kirby kick)
SJ—Jaden Shirden 4 run (Kirby kick)
SJ—Jude Andrzejewski 3 run (Kirby kick)
SJ—Mallozzi 27 pass from Babineau (Kirby kick)
RUSHING—St. Joseph, Jaden Shirden 24-83, Cory Babineau 9-40, Jared Mallozzi 2-16, Jude Andrzejewski 1-3. Valley/Old Lyme, Dan Stecher 9-41, Matt Sapere 12-21.
PASSING— St. Joseph, Babineau 18-29-1-226. Valley/Old Lyme, Sapere 12-36-226.
RECEIVING— St. Joseph, Philip Pasmeg 9-83, Mallozzi 5-115, Brian Gannon 2-45, Shirden 2-1, Jesse Bike 1-9. Valley/Old Lyme, Garrett Burdick 5-92, O’Brien 3-90, Ernest Jean-Pierre 3-31, Dan Stecher 1-13.