By Mike Madera
Special to CIACSports.com
Saturday morning’s Class M final between St. Joseph – Trumbull and Hillhouse has plenty of intrigue. The contest also has its share of dynamic players on the offensive side for both teams.
While it has often been said defense wins championships, that really may be the case at Ken Strong Stadium when the title bout between fifth-seeded St. Joseph and second-seeded Hillhouse kicks off at 10:30 a.m.
“We cannot give up big plays,” St. Joseph coach Joe DellaVecchia said of his 10-2 team. “They have a tremendous amount of speed. We have to contain them. We can’t allow them to have big plays all day.”
If DellaVecchia and his team are to pull out the victory, the Cadets will need to stop the three-headed monster in terms of running backs for Hillhouse. That monster consists of senior running backs Matt Brehon, David Harris and Shawn Ogarro.
Brehon has been consistent all year for the Academics, rushing for 1,785 yards and 22 touchdowns on 138 carries. Brehon also has 2,223 all-purpose yards.
Harris has rushed 109 times for 863 yards and seven touchdowns, while also compiling 1,034 all-purpose yards. Ogarro has run for 648 yards and nine touchdowns on 74 carries, while also accumulating 710 all-purpose yards.
“Our strength is obviously our running game,” Hillhouse coach Reggie Lytle said as he prepares for his first state championship game as head coach of the Academics. “We have to continue to pound the ball. Up front, our line has been doing a good job all year.
“We have been lucky and fortunate to stay healthy. That goes back to being in the weight room all summer. We have come a long way from not having a field and doing just conditioning to working hard in the weight room.”
Hillhouse, which defeated third-seeded Killingly in the semifinals, also has weapons to worry about on the St. Joseph sideline. St. Joseph upset top-seeded Valley Regional/Old Lyme to reach the finals.
Senior quarterback Cory Babineau runs the offense of St. Joseph with 2,500 yards in the air and 31 touchdowns, with his top target being junior wide receiver Jared Mallozzi, who has caught 20 touchdowns this year. Freshman running back Jaden Shirden has run for close to 950 yards and eight scores.
“Jared has made a lot of big plays for us,” DellaVecchia said of Mallozzi. “Corey has done a good job for us and Jaden has done a great job as a freshman.”
If the Academics are to win their tenth straight contest and first state title since 2012, a dominant effort up front on the defensive side will be needed.
“Our front line, defensive tackles and ends, has been solid,” Lytle said in regards to his team’s 11-1 record. “The middle has been pretty sound. We have been good night in and night out up front. That has been our real strength.”
DellaVechia is savoring the moment with this team as he and his staff had no idea what to expect from a team which opened the year with six sophomores and two freshen in the starting lineup.
“We came in with a lot of young guys,” DellaVecchia said of the start to the season. “Those were big unknowns to start the year. We were the underdog most of the year in all of our games. We improved every week and went out there looking to win.”
The Cadets, which sandwiched eight straight wins in between losses on opening day and in the season finale, have outscored the two postseason opponents 76-28.
Each coach praises his team’s league as a big reason for the team’s success.
“To me, it’s still the best conference in the state,” Lytle said of the Southern Connecticut Conference. “Week in and week out, anyone can be beaten. It’s a fight in the SCC.”
Said DellaVecchia of the FCIAC, “It is a great league every week. You have to be prepared emotionally and mentally. The league has great teams playing across the board. We play LL schools who have a lot more kids than us. We have to be prepared every week.”
Both teams hope that preparation pays off come Saturday morning.