STRATFORD — The Class L semifinal game between top-seeded St. Joseph and No. 4 New Canaan was played in a heavy rain which was more befitting Noah than a football game.
But the Hogs had no need of an ark. They had Jaden Shirden instead.
St. Joseph’s star running back was unstoppable, rushing for 257 yards and five touchdowns as the Hogs routed New Canaan 42-0 Monday at Bunnell High School, punching their ticket to the state final for the fourth consecutive season.
“It was a great game, great weather and I just did my job,” said Shirden, who now has 11 TDs in two playoff games.
St. Joseph’s victory sets up a long-awaited clash of titans with second-seeded Hand, which also won by a 42-0 score in the semifinals against Maloney. The Hogs and Tigers, both 12-0, will meet for the Class L championship on Saturday at at 3 p.m. at Veteran’s Stadium in New Britain.
For the Hogs, who won Class S in 2017 and Class M last fall, getting back to the final has been the goal since the preseason.
‘It’s unreal,” St. Joseph coach Joe DellaVecchia said. “You lose a quarterback like David Summers and some other great players, and you wonder if you have what it takes to get back (to the final). This group, this has been their goal from the beginning. We’re excited as heck to be back. Four years in a row is not an easy task.”
The loss was a bitter end for New Canaan, which fell to St. Joseph 58-14 in Week 4 of the regular season, but recovered with seven straight wins to reach the state semifinals.
The Rams were banged up and played without Notre Dame-bound quarterback Drew Pyne, who injured his shoulder in the quarterfinals against Wethersfield and was unable to go on Monday.
In his stead, New Canaan used a wildcat offense led by Christian Sweeney, and backup QB Reid Brown, but was never able to get going offensively.
“Everything was kind of off, there was nothing that was really on,” New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said. “We weren’t sure if Drew was going to play or not and then at the last minute, I don’t think he could raise his arm and he was in a lot of pain. So there was no sense risking it.”
While the performance of Shirden took the spotlight, the Hogs’ defense was also outstanding, holding the Rams to just 72 total yards. The line play of Mike Morrissey, Cayden Porter and Jermaine Williams led the way.
“They were tremendous,” Shirden said of the defense. “Credit to all those defensive coaches. They just really work hard and make it happen.”
New Canaan stopped the Hogs on the first possession, but St Joe’s answered with a special teams score.
Dennis Rotunno blocked a Ram punt, and Tyler Sisko scooped up the ball and ran it in for a 7-0 lead.
On the next series, Morrissey stripped the ball from Sweeney and recovered at the Rams’ 31-yard line. Shirden then scored on the next play to make it 14-0.
The Hogs added 21 points in the second quarter as Shirden took over the game with scoring runs of 2, 62, and 43 yards for a 35-0 halftime lead.
“He’s a big part of everything we do, Jack (Wallace) did a great job getting him the ball and the guys up front did a great job giving him the space that he needed,” DellaVecchia said. “Every day, he’s getting better even after four years. He’s a hard-working kid and on a day like this, you knew he was going to get the ball a lot and I think he looked forward to it.”
“I loved it,” Shirden said. “All week, we knew it was going to rain, so I knew what I had to do and I tried to get the job done.”
New Canaan had some positives in the second half, stopping the Hogs on their first two possessions and getting an interception from Walker Swindell, the team’s seventh pick in three games, but overall, the Rams were unable to maintain any consistency.
The final TD came again from Shirden, who scored on a 14-yard run with 7:35 remaining in the game.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Jaden Shirden, St. Joseph. The Hogs’ senior running back racked up 257 yards and five touchdowns on 19 carries. His TDs included long runs of 62 and 43 yards, and in two tournament games, he has 11 touchdowns.
“It’s going to be fun. We’re happy to be back and now we’re just going to get ready to finish the job.” — St. Joseph senior Jaden Shirden