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St. Joseph finishes No. 1 in The Day's final football coaches' poll

It sounds ludicrous now, but it was about this time last year that St. Joseph head coach Joe Della Vecchia expressed how concerned he was about his 2019 team.

“We lost (quarterback) David (Summers),” Della Vecchia said about it Saturday. “We lost (receiver) Jesse Bike. We lost (Robert) Mihaly, our best offensive linemen. I knew we had some guys back on offense, but the quarterback was a question mark. We had a whole new secondary, especially when we moved (safety) Jack (Wallace) over (to quarterback). That made me nervous. That was a big question mark.”

“I probably overanalyze everything all the time because I’m that way.”

The Cadets gave Della Vecchia little to worry about this fall as they put together one of the best seasons in the history of the very successful program.

St. Joseph went 13-0, its first unbeaten season since 1982, knocked off two-time defending champion and then-No. 1 Hand to win the CIAC Class L title, and was a unanimous No. 1 in The Day's season-ending Top 10 state coaches’ poll.

“When I took the job (as head coach), my goal was to be number one, to bring St. Joseph back to number one,” Della Vecchia said. “And we finally did it.”

The Cadets received all 13 first-place votes from the coaches after being ranked second the previous nine weeks. They’ve won three consecutive state titles (Class M last season, Class S in 2017) and 15 overall, second only to Ansonia (20) in state history.

Della Vecchia has coached St. Joseph to seven state titles over 22 seasons. He also won three during his nine years as an assistant and was a senior co-captain for the program’s first state title (1980).

It is the first time the Cadets finished No. 1 in the coaches’ poll, which was coordinated by the Hartford Courant from 1985-2000 before being discontinued, then revived by The Day in 2003.

St. Joseph also finished first in the GameTimeCT/New Haven Register media poll. It received 24 out of 25 first-place votes. No. 2 Newtown received the other first-place vote.

Newtown (13-0), the state’s only other unbeaten team, finished second in The Day's poll. The Nighthawks became national news after defeating Darien 13-7 on a game-ending 36-yard touchdown pass in the Class LL final on Saturday, the seventh anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Some players were Sandy Hook students when 20 children and six staff members were killed.

Hand (12-1) finished third after being No. 1 all season. The Tigers had won 36 successive games prior to Saturday, tying Ansonia (1975-78) for the third-longest winning streak in state history.

Darien (11-2) was fourth. It was the only team in the state to beat No. 5 Greenwich (9-2) and No. 6 Southington (10-2) and did so twice, first during the regular-season and then again in the LL playoffs.

Class S champion Sheehan (11-2) finished seventh after thrashing then-No. 6 and defending champion Bloomfield 64-33 on Saturday to win its first state title since 1985.

Weston (12-1) made its season-debut at No. 8 after knocking off Killingly 27-6 in Saturday’s Class M final for its first state title.

Class LL semifinalist Simsbury (10-2) was ninth, followed by Class S runner-up Ansonia (11-1).

St. Joseph had more than enough talent back on defense with the likes of nose guard Jermaine Williams. It did have to find a new quarterback to run its high-powered spread offense, but returned running back Jaden Shirden, who was voted as one of the state’s top 26 players for the Connecticut High School Coaches Association “overall” team.

The Cadets blew out every opponent but Hand, winning by an average of 29 points with Shirden and Wallace both earning spots on the coaches’ all-state overall team.

St. Joseph’s defense was even better as it allowed a state-low 78 points. Williams was chosen to the all-state overall team while senior linebacker Cole DaSilva made the Class L team. Fellow seniors Mike Morrissey (defensive end) and Alex Pagliarini (linebacker) were also worthy of all-state honors.

Hand averaged 391.8 yards a game prior to Saturday. The Cadets held the Tigers to 229 yards, 46 of which came on a pass with over a minute left.

“I’m going to miss this senior class,” Della Vecchia said. “(Now) I’ll tell you we’re going to lose everybody. We’re losing a lot of kids.”

n.griffen@theday.com

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