DEEP RIVER >> When Valley Regional/Old Lyme opened the second half with a gorgeous 64-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Matt Sapere to sophomore Jason O’Brien, a roar reverberated from the famous hill at Blythe Field all the way through the Connecticut River Valley and all the small Pequot Conference towns in between.
The Warriors, who had shut out St. Joseph-Trumbull in the first half, had a 7-0 lead. And just like 2014 against Ansonia in the Class S state championship game, the Valley faithful were starting to believe again.
The rest of the night, however, belonged to the Cadets.
Senior quarterback Cory Babineau passed for 253 yards with two touchdowns and freshman running back Jaden Shirden rushed for 68 yards with one touchdown to lead No. 5 St. Joseph past top-seeded Valley Regional/Old Lyme, 28-7, in the Class M semifinals Monday night in Deep River.
The Cadets (10-2) will meet No. 2 Hillhouse (11-1) for the state championship on Saturday (10:30 a.m.) at West Haven High School.
“It’s unbelievable,” St. Joseph coach Joe Dellavecchia said. “Going into the year we were hoping to be a .500 team and to be in the position we’re in is just an unbelievable job by these guys.”
The Warriors (10-2) were coming off an impressive 30-12 win over Berlin in the quarterfinals.
“How many people thought we would be where we are?” Valley Regional/Old Lyme coach Tim King said. “Not many people thought we would be 10-1 after beating Berlin. And being up 7-0 in the third quarter against St. Joe’s.”
Valley’s 7-0 lead, however, was short-lived.
The Cadets answered on their next possession with a nine-play, 60-yard scoring drive. Babineau found Jared Mallozzi with a 21-yard scoring toss and Luke Kirby’s extra point tied it at 7.
The Cadets then seized the game’s momentum when Mike DiIorio blocked a Warriors punt, giving St. Joseph’s a first and goal at the Valley 5. Two plays later, Shirden went up the middle with a 4-yard touchdown run to give the Cadets a 14-7 lead.
“Basically, the play of the game was the block,” King said. “It changed the momentum, field position and gave them a short field. You give St. Joe’s a short field…that hurt.”
St. Joseph took advantage of another Warriors turnover, this one a fumble that was recovered by Jude Andrzejewski, whose short return took the ball to the Valley 13.
Andrzejewski scored on a 3-yard plunge shortly after and St. Joseph had a 21-7 lead with 16 seconds left in the third quarter.
“That hurt too,” King added. “We were playing behind the chains the rest of the way.”
Babineau, who completed 19 of 3o passes, tossed his second touchdown pass with 5:03 left in the fourth quarter. Babineau rifled a pass that Warriors senior Garret Burdick nearly intercepted, but the ball went through Burdick’s hands and was caught by Mallozzi in the end zone.
Mallozzi had five receptions for 96 yards and two touchdowns,while sophomore Philip Pasmeg caught seven passes for 80 yards, including a pair of key third down catches on the Cadets final scoring drive.
“I think we just wore them down a little bit at the end,” Dellavecchia said. “Corey had a good day throwing the ball. It was a tough track but he found open guys.”
Sapere completed 12 of 36 passes for 224 yards. Senior Dan Stecher rushed for 43 yards on 10 carries, Burdick caught five passes for 91 yards, while O’Brien had four receptions for 95 yards.
“We expected it to be like this,” Dellavecchia added. “Valley’s a great team. The first half was a little frustrating but credit to our kids. They didn’t hang their heads. They just kept battling. It was a hard hitting game. Both teams were really going after each other. Nobody wanted to give anything.”
No. 5 St. Joseph 28, No. 1 Valley Regional/Old Lyme 7
at Blythe Field, Deep River
St. Joseph 0 0 21 7—28
Valley /Old Lyme 0 0 7 0—7
V/OL—Jason O’Brien 64 pass from Matt Sapere (Garrett Burdick kick)
SJ—Jared Mallozzi 21 pass from Cory Babineau (Luke Kirby kick)
SJ—Jaden Shirden 4 run (Kirby kick)
SJ—Jude Andrzejewski 3 run (Kirby kick)
SJ—Mallozzi 27 pass from Babineau (Kirby kick)
Team records: St. Joseph 10-2; Valley Regional/Old Lyme 10-2.