TRUMBULL >> St. Joseph certainly hasn’t forgotten what transpired the last time it played New Canaan.
The Hogs led by nine at halftime before a second-half meltdown resulted in a 27-21 New Canaan victory last October.
With starting quarterback Jordan Vazzano injured and on the sideline, New Canaan’s Cole Harris picked off a pass from backup Pat Boyle and returned it 57 yards for the winning score.
Even before that defining play, St. Joseph made too many mental and physical miscues and let the lead slip away. But dwelling on the past is never productive. Learning from past mistakes, however, certainly can be.
“We turned the ball over way too many times, especially in the second half,” St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia said. “We didn’t take care of the ball. The other thing is, we had a lot of penalties, a lot of unforced errors; we just have to be able to finish drives.”
Vazzano left last year’s contest early with bruised ribs and did not play the remainder of the game. But he returned to lead the Hogs to four straight wins to close the regular season. St. Joseph lost to Hillhouse in the Class M quarterfinals.
“He probably could’ve finished, I think,” Della Vecchia said. “But in hindsight, I don’t know. At the time (the trainers) were being a little cautious with it.”
The Hogs (7-0), ranked third in the Register Top 10 Poll, hope to play a full 48 minutes this time when they travel to No. 2 New Canaan, also 7-0. Kickoff is set for tonight at 7 at New Canaan’s Dunning Field in one of this season’s most anticipated games.
Vazzano and the Hogs aren’t looking at the rematch as their shot at redemption, rather as the Rams being just another team on the schedule.
“We just need to go out and play, and have a good time and just play football; that’s what we’re here to do,” Vazzano said. “You can’t hype it up to anything more than a football game that you’re supposed to have fun at. It’s not a job. We do it because we love playing.”
The contest will be a contrast between New Canaan’s dominating defense and the Hogs’ potent offense. The Rams are considered by many to be the state’s most complete team, led by senior linebackers Michael Root (74 tackles) and Cole Harris (71 tackles) and junior linebacker Zach Allen (5½ sacks).
“It’s tough to gauge,” Della Vecchia said. “I’ve seen them a few times, and watched films, but they haven’t played anybody that runs our style of offense yet. It’s really hard to tell. They’re very good on defense. They don’t have a weak spot.
“The big concern is up front. They’re real good and they’re so well-coached and disciplined everywhere, so it’s going to be hard to catch them in things.”
The Hogs, though, are confident they have the talent on both sides of the ball to compete against the Rams, who have reached the state semifinals each of the past eight seasons.
“I feel like we can score on anybody,” said the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Vazzano. “They have a good defense, we know that, but I think we can score on them, and I think our defense can stop them.”
Vazzano, who said he’s received interest from Yale, Harvard and Brown, has completed 96 of 170 passes for 1,541 yards and 18 touchdowns against just three interceptions. Vazzano’s targets include seniors Shane Miller (25 catches, 437 yards, six touchdowns) and Mark Hirschbeck (24-307-3) and junior Lars Pedersen (25-528-8). Junior running back Mufasha Abdul Basir (106 carries, 934 yards, 13 touchdowns) brings balance to the St. Joseph offense.
“We think we have real good receivers,” Della Vecchia said. “Mufasha is tough; he’s slippery out there. We think we have a good attack going at them. We can run and pass, and we think that’s to our advantage.”
The Hogs are certainly aware of the challenges the Rams present. New Canaan has an effective offense of its own, led by senior quarterback Nick Cascione (1,163 passing yards, 19 touchdowns), senior receiver Jack Gilio (20 receptions, five touchdowns) and junior receiver Alex LaPolice (12 catches, four touchdowns).
“Defending them is just as hard as playing offense against them,” Pedersen said. “They do a lot of things, but we’re going to be working hard this week in practice and there’s some things we think we can do and, hopefully, have some success in doing them.”