NORWALK — Only one time during Joe Della Vecchia’s 22-year stretch as head coach of the St. Joseph football team have the Cadets faced an opponent twice during a season.
It’s not exactly a fond memory.
“We’ve only seen a team twice in a year once since I’ve been coaching and that was New Canaan (in 2013),” Della Vecchia said. “And it didn’t work out too well for us.”
The Rams may have won twice that season, including in the FCIAC final, but the two perennial league powers have traded punches over the years, remaining state championship contenders on an annual basis. Since 2006, New Canaan has won eight state championships and the Cadets have won six.
This year, New Canaan and St. Joseph could be on course to meet twice, as they’re both among the playoff favorites in a loaded Class L field which includes two-time defending champion Daniel Hand, along with Windsor, North Haven, Berlin and Middletown, among others.
Della Vecchia and New Canaan head coach Lou Marinelli both acknowledged the strength of their class during the annual Ruden Report FCIAC Media Night at the Colony Grill in Norwalk.
“When you look at the teams in Class L — Hand, St. Joseph, Windsor — there’s a lot of really good teams in there,” Marinelli said. “We hope we’re there at the end and able to compete with them. It’s a long year and it’s a grind, so you never know how it’s going to turn out.
“It should be a lot of fun. I just hope we can get to the playoffs.”
New Canaan, which moved up to Class LL for one season and finished as the runner-up, had a drop in enrollment to 961 boys, shifting the Rams back to Class L.
St. Joseph, which has an enrollment of 390, was moved to Class L due to the tournament success modifier.
The CIAC designates that schools of choice, which are schools that can draw from beyond their borders, be moved up one playoff class if they’ve reached the state semifinals in each of the two previous years. St. Joe’s won Class S in 2017 and defeated Berlin 70-18 in the 2018 Class M final.
While New Canaan has faced many of the teams in Class L over the years, winning titles, for example, over Windsor 35-20 in 2016, and North Haven 42-35 in 2015, St. Joseph is in uncharted waters.
“(Class L) is loaded, and it’s new for us because if we’re able to qualify, there’s a lot of teams that we haven’t seen over the years besides New Canaan,” Della Vecchia said. “Hand, Windsor, Middletown, teams like that we haven’t seen so if we qualify, that’s going to be a different experience for us. So if the time comes, we’re going to have to figure out how we’re going to prepare for those guys.
“We’re playing LL teams all year, so in that aspect, it’s an extension of the (FCIAC) and a help for us.”
The Cadets and Rams will go head-to-head at New Canaan’s Dunning Field at 7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 4, in a revenge game for the Rams. New Canaan has entered the past two seasons ranked No. 1 in the GameTimeCT preseason poll, only to lose to St. Joe’s both times on opening day, including last year’s 28-0 rout in Trumbull.
“They’re such a good team every year,” Marinelli said of the Cadets. “We’ll have to see how it turns out. We’re a work in progress right now. We have a lot of questions that haven’t been answered yet. It’s a process, but we’ll have to see.”
Facing New Canaan twice may be on the horizon, but as Della Vecchia pointed out, it’s a long season.
“That’s the bigger picture if we get there, but right now, we’ve got to focus each week,” Della Vecchia said. “We’ve got a lot of heavy hitters to go through the schedule before we can even think about getting there.”