WEST HAVEN >> Hillhouse has been a second-half football team all season long. The Academics saved their best second-half performance for last.
The Academics piled up almost 300 yards of offense in the second half Saturday and held St. Joseph without a point, rolling to a 42-21 win for the Class M state championship at Ken Strong Stadium.
“We only had 24 minutes to the end of the seniors’ final career as an Academic,” Hillhouse running back Matt Brehon said. “We wanted to make history. We knew coming in here if we play strong football, we play as a unit, we are going to win this football game.”
It’s the sixth state championship for the Academics (12-1), the first since 2012. And it’s the only one from the Southern Connecticut Conference in 2016.
“It’s big for the city, they supported us, yelling defense when we needed it. I’m just happy for the city,” said Hillhouse coach Reggie Lytle, who played on the Academics’ first state title team in 1985.
How good was Hillhouse’s defense in the second half? Until the Cadets’ final drive of the game, they had just 5 net yards. They finished with just 25.
“I felt we put pressure on them defensively and came out in the second half on fire,” Brehon said. “That kind of shocked them and froze them up. We are a second-half team. If you let down, we get it rolling.”
Said St. Joseph coach Joe Dellavecchia: “Ironically, the third quarter has been our best quarter all year, only giving up 14 points. They are so fast and explosive. It’s real tough. We did the best we could filling lanes. It was a matter of time before they break a couple. We just hoped it wasn’t that many.”
Speed is the name of Hillhouse’s game and no one on the field Saturday was faster than Brehon.
Not only did the senior finish with a game-high 231 yards, 176 in the second half, he also went over 2,000 yards for the season (2,016 to be exact) and finished his stellar career with 3,405 rushing yards and 39 total touchdowns.
“I play for everybody in this city and I play for everybody watching me and supporting me,” Brehon said.
“I feel good I got it. Shout out to the O lineman because without them, I wouldn’t be able to get my 2,000 yards.”
Said Lytle: “Matt’s an exceptional kid. His speed is incredible. … Everyone we play, nobody prepared for our speed, nobody practiced for our speed, nobody could demonstrate our speed.”
Brehon had a 49-yard run on Hillhouse’s first possession of the second half, then scored on the next play from 4 yards out to put Hillhouse up for good 28-21 after the two-point pass play was successful.
Then Brehon added another 49-yard run on the Academics’ ensuing possession, this time for a touchdown. The Cadets (10-3) didn’t pick up a first down on their next possession and the snap on fourth down went over punter Charlie Pagliarini’s head. Hillhouse recovered at the Cadet 13.
David Harris (94 yards) scored two plays later to put Hillhouse up 42-21 with 3:12 still left in the third quarter.
“Our special teams was strong all year,” Dellavecchia said. “The first two drives not moving the chains and them scoring on the first two drives puts you in a hole and you have to do a few different things.”
Cory Babineau finished 15-of-28 passing for 236 yards. Freshman Jaden Shirden accounted for all three touchdowns for the Cadets. Chase Kinzly had a 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown for Hillhouse in the first half.
HILLHOUSE 42, ST. JOSEPH 21
ST. JOSEPH 7 14 0 0 — 21
HILLHOUSE 14 6 22 0 — 42
H — David Harris 69 run (Byron Breland kick)
SJ — Jaden Shirden 2 run (Luke Kirby kick)
H — Chase Kinzly 91 kickoff return (Breland kick)
SJ — Shirden 1 run (Kirby kick)
H — Shawn Ogarro 20 run (Kick failed)
SJ — Shirden 1 run (Kirby kick)
H — Mathew Brehon 4 run (Wharton Gardner pass from Damien Henderson)
H — Brehon 50 run (Breland kick)
H — Harris 10 run (Breland kick)
Team Records: St. Joseph 10-3; Hillhouse 12-1
Video, above, via CT Sports Now