TRUMBULL >> FCIAC teams fear St. Joseph back Mufasha Abdul-Basir. Not because of what he’s done, but what he’s capable of doing.
Despite his reputation for being both a shifty and explosive back, Abdul-Basir mostly receives second billing to quarterback Jordan Vazzano and Lars Pedersen in St. Joseph’s high-powered offense.
The junior back made good on his reputation in a 28-14 victory over Darien on Homecoming Saturday. With St. Joseph’s vaunted passing attack struggling, the Hogs went almost exclusively with the run game and their feature back Abdul-Basir to keep them unbeaten.
“I really don’t touch the ball as much because Jordan Vazzano is one of the best quarterbacks in the state,” Abdul Basir said. “When I do get a chance when my number is called, I do take advantage of it.”
He juked and jived for 200 yards and a pair of second-half touchdowns on 25 carries behind his massive line as No. 6 St. Joseph (4-0, 2-0 FCIAC) rallied from a 14-7 halftime deficit and hand the Blue Wave its first loss of the year.
“He makes that offense hum,” said Darien coach Rob Trifone, whose team fell to 3-1 (2-1 FCIAC). “…We took away the pass early and we tried to take away the run, but we couldn’t stop him.”
Asked what advice he’d give teams trying to stop Abdul-Basir, Trifone said, “Play with 12 men.”
Abdul-Basir, who was also the hero of last year’s double overtime victory over the Blue Wave, had his number called seemingly every time in the second half. He capped an 80-yard drive with a 2-yard run to tie the game on St. Joseph’s first possession of the second half.
Later, he promptly got a 96-yard scoring drive going with a 55-yard run. A few plays later, Abdul-Basir spun out of several tackles and scored the 19-yard go-ahead scoring run.
“We take what we get,” said St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia, whose team clearly had troubles passing in the first half. “If we have to throw every play, we’ll throw every play. If we have to run every play, we’ll run every play.
“I always get the question, ‘Do you guys try to be 50-50 (running plays to throwing plays)?’ I don’t try to be anything. I just try to win games and score touchdowns as fast as we can. And, today was the run.”
Led by manchild sophomore end Mark Evanchick’s two sacks and a hard-hitting secondary, the Blue Wave hounded Vazzano and his receivers early on. Myles Ridder picked off a Vazzano pass and the Blue Wave cashed in with a Jay Harrison 1-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead.
Vazzano completed a 20-yard pass to Lars Pedersen on fourth down to set up his own 1-yard touchdown run that tied the game. Darien, however, marched back down the field and scored on another short Harrison run to make it 14-7 at halftime.
But in the second half, fed up with its passing troubles, St. Joseph began handing the ball off to Abdul-Basir, the junior who missed the final weeks of last season with academic issues. St. Joseph’s front lines opened holes and the skinny tailback slipped through or juked past defenders for a pair of touchdowns in the second half.
St. Joseph’s defense, which had been befuddled early, kept Darien’s offense under wraps. “We weren’t really as aggressive as we’d like to be,” said nose guard Mike Schuchmann. “Coach Dell got us fired up at halftime, ready to go and we got aggressive in the second half.”
The Blue Wave’s best scoring chance came as the third quarter came to a close. Facing a 4th and goal at the 4, Darien first brought out its field goal unit. When the team’s switched field side to begin the fourth, however, the Blue Wave instead tried a halfback option pass from Nick Lombardo. It fell incomplete.
“I told the guys, good news-bad news,” Trifone said. “The good news is you played with probably one of the best teams in the state. The bad news is, you squandered opportunities to stay with them/try to win the game and you can’t do that in a big game.”
St. Joseph promptly drove 96 yards for the go-ahead score. Abdul-Basir took a handoff and went 55 yards beyond midfield. A few plays later, he spun through tackles and 19 yards into the end zone with 9:46 left.
“I got a lot of heart for a little guy,” Abdul-Basir said. “It’s going to be hard to take me down.”
Darien failed on another fourth-down play, giving the Hogs the ball at the 49. Staying with the run game. Vazzano iced the game with a 1-yard touchdown run.
DARIEN 7 7 0 0 –14
ST. JOSEPH 0 7 7 14 — 28
- D–Jay Harrison 1 run (Daly Hebert kick)
- SJ–Jordan Vazzano 1 run (kick)
- D–Harrison 2 run (Hebert kick)
- SJ–Mufasha Abdul-Basir 2 run (kick)
- SJ–Abdul-Basir 19 run (kick)
- SJ–Vazzano 1 run (kick)
Team records: Darien 3-1, St. Joseph 4-0