On the Thursday before St. Joseph’s big game with Fairfield Prep, the first against its former MBIAC rival in 20 years, coach Joe Della Vecchia took his team up Hog Hill and over to old Dalling Field.
He gathered the team at the 8-yard line. “This,” he said, “is where it all happened.”
In the fall of 1976, Della Vecchia was in eighth grade and it was at ol’ Dalling where he witnessed what he called ‘The Game’ that kicked the late, great St. Joseph-Fairfield Prep rivalry into high gear.
Della Vecchia recalled that Prep had the ball on that spot with seconds remaining when then-Prep quarterback Steve Kupcheck scrambled, scrambled, scrambled and finally dived into the end zone with no time left to lift the Jesuits to victory on Thanksgiving.
“I set the whole scenario for them,” Della Vecchia said. “The ropes around the field. The fans in the wooden bleachers. I remember I’d never seen a crowd so big.
“That game… that was a rivalry-building game. In one play, the rivalry became one of the fiercest rivalries I’d ever seen in football.”
St. Joseph was about to resume that rivalry for the first time in 20 years. Della Vecchia said he sensed his kids didn’t get that a Week 2 game meant something more.
“I don’t think the kids really understood what it meant to play Fairfield Prep,” Della Vecchia said. “We were trying to get through to them what the rivalry was all about. I told them, it’s not what you think. Back then, everybody knew each other. We’d go to middle school together and then we’d go our separate ways. Trumbull’s not our rival. Prep, Prep was the rival. It was nasty and crazy.”
The rivals picked up exactly where they left off Friday night.
Down 30-14, Fairfield Prep rallied to take a 34-30 lead with 50 seconds left. As nervous as he was as a coach, the eighth-grader inside Della Vecchia got giddy as St. Joseph reached the Prep 42 with seconds left for one crack at the winning touchdown.
“I’m going to (assistant coach Jim) Chaves, who was up in the booth, ‘This is it! This is Mitch Kupcheck!'” Della Vecchia said. “He’s like, ‘What?’ And I said, ‘I’ll tell you in a minute.'”
St. Joseph’s student student body began to recite the Hail Mary and, after taking of his headphones to make sure he wasn’t hearing things, Della Vecchia called the prayer’s namesake play. His last instructions to quarterback Jordan Vazzano: “I don’t care what happens, throw it to Lars.”
Lars Pedersen, the outstanding junior receiver, streaked down the right sideline and past a Fairfield Prep defender, who fell at the 5-yard line. Two Prep safeties were late sliding over to help their teammate.
As providence would have it, Vazzano’s throw was already on its way down to the pylon. Pedersen merely needed to turn, make the breadbasket catch and fall into the end zone.
He did. Final score, St. Joseph 36, Fairfield Prep 34.
The Hogs are flying high at 2-0 as they finally head into their FCIAC schedule vs. 2-0 Ridgefield at home Saturday.
“I just hope we don’t have a let down after such a game,” Della Vecchia said.
Fairfield Prep, which lamented a missed opportunity, faces SCC Catholic rival Notre Dame-West Haven.
The victory tied the 2012 FCIAC-SCC series at 9-9. St. Joseph also cut Fairfield Prep’s lead in the series to 15-12-3. The two teams play next year at St. Joseph as part of the two-year SCC/FCIAC challenge.
PAT LESCH AND FRIENDS
Staples back Patrick Lesch made a triumphant return to the field after having hip surgery earlier this year. He carried the ball eight times for 62 yards and scored a touchdown to give Staples a 14-0 halftime lead over Wilton.
“It was great. He’s a special player. He adds a whole other dimension to our offense,” Staples coach Marce Petroccio said. “He can turn a nothing play into 5 or 6 yards.”
But the good times didn’t last. Lesch appeared to injure his hip again in the second quarter. Though he turned out to be fine, Petroccio kept him out of the remainder of the game as a precaution.
Staples, which was down to its third tailback, needed Bobby Jacowleff‘s interception on its own 4 to seal the 14-7 victory.
“Once we took (Lesch) out, you could see the offense kind of grind to a halt,” Petroccio said. “Wilton’s pretty good. They have some tough kids. We were lucky to get out of there with a win.”
Darien’s Silas Wyper backed up quarterback Henry Baldwin for his entire high school career. With Baldwin graduated, the senior quarterback has proven to be a good study.
Wyper has completed 64 percent of his passes for six touchdowns and 466 yards in two starts.
“Silas is a total program kid,” coach Rob Trifone said following the team’s 42-21 victory over Greenwich. “He backed up Henry for the last two years, played JV, never said boo to anyone and did everything you asked him to do. He’s playing so well. He puts the ball where it’s supposed to go, he tucks when he should. I’m very proud of him.”
Five of those touchdown passes have gone to classmate Nick Lombardo.
“Last two year I had Henry (Baldwin), but Silas has made the transition pretty seamless,” Lombardo said. “He’s throwing the ball really well and he can run, too. So it’s a pretty good dynamic he’s got going.”
HARDING’S GOT SPIRIT
With their 14-3 victory over Stamford, Harding is 2-0 for the first time since its last winning season: 1996.
“The biggest change I’ve seen is in the school,” coach Jack Cochran said on LaxWorm.com’s weekly football podcast. “They’re putting the kids’ numbers up in the cafeteria, talking about them on the announcements… it’s like a rebirth in school, unlike they’ve ever had in the past.”
After the opening victory over Law, Cochran said he had 100 percent attendance at practice the following Monday. “They were all on time and ready to go. They’re starting to see the fruits of their labor.”
“When we started, they really didn’t believe they could win a football game. Now they’ve got two.”
Harding plays 1-1 Norwalk this week.
Following Greenwich’s 42-21 loss to Darien, Greenwich coach Rich Albonizio was asked to compare playing Darien’s spread offense with West Haven’s wing-T.
“Last week was a running, smash-you-in the face type of team, old fashioned wing-T stuff,” he said, referring to West Haven. “This is so much different. …You can’t even hear any hitting out there. It’s like pillow fight.”
Incidentally, of the six touchdowns Greenwich has scored this season, the offense has only accounted for half of them. The remainder have been a fumble recovery TD by Kendrick Pozo, a 94-yard blocked field goal return by Austin Longi, and an interception return by John Fischer.
Note: Based on source information, the original article incorrectly identified the 1976 Fairfield Prep quarterback’s name. It’s been corrected to ‘Steve Kupcheck.’
Harding (2-0) at Norwalk (1-1), 7 p.m.
Darien (2-0) at Bassick (0-2), 7 p.m.
Trinity Cath. (0-2) at Ffld.Warde (0-2), 7 p.m.
Bridg.Central (0-2) at Ffld.Ludlowe (1-1), 7 p.m.
Stamford (0-2) at Trumbull (1-1), 7 p.m.
Staples (1-1) at Westhill (1-1), 1:30 p.m.
McMahon (2-0) at Danbury (1-1), 1:30 p.m.
Ridgefield (2-0) at St. Joseph (2-0), 1:30 p.m.
Branford (0-2) at Wilton (1-1), 2:30 p.m.
New Canaan (2-0) at Greenwich (1-1), 4 p.m.
- GAMETIMECT/REGISTER TOP 10: Ansonia still No. 1; No North Haven love
- THE DAY COACHES POLL: A tie at the top
- MIKE PUCCI’S H.S. NOTEBOOK: Hopkins welcomes new field; Cross improving
- RAY CURREN’S INSIDE THE SCC: North Haven makes a statement
- THE FCIAC BEAT: St. Joseph adds another chapter; Staples welcomes back Lesch
- THE SWC BEAT: McCourt, New Fairfield Rebels yell
- THE NVL BEAT: ‘Brunoball’ a smash hit in Naugy
- STATE FOOTBALL BEAT: Pequot grounds-n-pounds; Capital (Prep) Punishment
- Laxworm’s ‘The Show’ high school football podcast: Jack Cochran guest