— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) December 2, 2015
NEW FAIRFIELD >> Late in the first half Zach Tripodi, New Fairfield’s senior workhorse, left his team’s Clas M quarterfinal game vs. defending champion St. Joseph with a shoulder injury.
For a lesser team that might have been a serious problem. But in the hands of a capable team — one with a massive and determined line like New Fairfield’s — it was business as usual.
The Rebels turned to senior fullback James Lewis who ran for a team-high 126-yard and a touchdown as New Fairfield pounded St. Joseph into submission with an impressive 24-0 victory at Rebel Stadium.
“They stepped up,” Lewis said of his line, each of whom he shouted out afterward: Russell Howard, Jake Gouveia, Justin Garden, Kyle Brennan and Reed Oettinger. “When we watched [St. Joseph] on film we knew we had the size on the line to beat them. We had everyone. We had the backs, the fullbacks, the defense. Everybody stepped up and did really good tonight.
“People were saying this was going to be the big game. We saw all the polls on GameTimeCT. But we knew.”
New Fairfield, which won its first playoff game in school history, advances to Monday’s semifinal round vs. Ledyard. As the No. 2 seed, the Rebels will return to enjoy the comforts of home.
“These kids know what they’re all about and they know what they’re capable of,” said New Fairfield coach Anthony Fata, whose SWC Championship team improved to 10-1 with its 10th-consecutive victory. “We’re just going to keep doing it. They’re feeling it. And they want it, man. They want it.”
Tripodi, who’s run for over 1,700 yards this season, went down after converting a 4th-and-short play in St. Joseph territory midway through the second quarter. By then, he’d already run for 113 yards and a touchdown to give the Rebels a 7-0 lead.
Lewis picked up right where Tripodi left off. Though he quickly scored on a dive into the end zone, the score was wiped out on a penalty. No matter, New Fairfield scored anyway on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Mike Zanca to Mike Farrell to make it 14-0.
“I think you got a good taste about what we’re all about up front,” said Fata, who said he was uncertain of the extent of Tripodi’s injury. “Yea, losing Trip early in the game… But Lewis jumped in and we have a great combination of backs. With that line, if we keep working, I don’t care who’s running the ball back there.”
New Fairfield later recovered a muffed St. Joseph punt snap and tacked on a 32-yard field goal by Mike Handlmaier. The Rebels were up 17-0.
It wasn’t an insurmountable deficit by any means, but the way St. Joseph had been playing to that point, it might as have been 50 points.
“They didn’t lift like we lifted,” said Howard, a 6-foot-2, 250-pound senior lineman. “[At] 6 a.m. every day. It was 24-0. Every play was at least five yards. We were confident. They had a lot of fight in them. They had the speed, they didn’t have the size.”
Aside from a blocked punt by Mike Jones late in the first half and Kevin Trefz’ kickoff return late in the second, St. Joseph showed no signs of life.
Back Christian Trefz played, but could find no room to run. Quarterback Corey Babineau couldn’t connect with any of his receivers and was sacked six times and intercepted once, by Andrew D’Amico following the blocked punt.
St. Joseph managed one first down — one.
“There’s not a whole heck of a lot you can say,” St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia said. “They’re a good team and we had a bad night. We picked a bad time to have a bad night. We couldn’t do anything.”
Lewis and New Fairfield, meanwhile, spent the entire half amassing first downs and sucking away clock. His 1-yard touchdown run late in the game officially ended St. Joseph’s two-year run as Class M champions.
Now the Rebels get a Ledyard team that loves to ground and pound the football, too.
“Hell, yeah, we’re ready. That’s the only thing that gets you out of bed in the morning,” Howard said of playing for a shot at the state final. “That’s it, man.”
New Fairfield 24, St. Joseph 0
ST. JOSEPH 0 0 0 0 — 0
NEW FAIRFIELD 7 10 0 7 — 24
NF — Zach Tripodi 2 run (Mike Handlmaier kick)
NF–Mike Farrell 12 pass from Mike Zanca (Handlmaier kick)
NF–Handlmaier 32 field goal
NF–James Lewis 1 run (Handlmaier kick)
Records: New Fairfield 10-1, St. Joseph 7-3.