St. Joseph routs Ridgefield in top-10 showdown

Ridgefield quarterback Declan McNamara takes off on a run against St. Joseph

Ridgefield quarterback Declan McNamara takes off on a run against St. Joseph

David G. Whitham / For Hearst Connecticut Media

First Jaden Shirden cut to the right, gained almost 20 yards, somehow stayed in bounds, got away from one defender, cut back left, took it inside the 10. It seemed the whole Ridgefield defense was swarming the St. Joseph running back but couldn’t pull him down.

The Tigers did drag him down eventually after a 42-yard gain. But Shirden got in on the next play, the third of the senior back’s four touchdowns, as No. 2 St. Joseph broke it open in the second half to beat No. 7 Ridgefield, 41-0, at Dalling Field in Trumbull on Saturday.

“I was actually happy with [the 42-yard run], but I got in the next time,” Shirden said. “As long as I got in the end zone.”

Shirden got in plenty. He scored the Cadets’ first touchdown, culminating a six-play, 56-yard drive that was all Shirden. He also scored on runs of 36, 1, and 12 yards. On 25 carries, he ran for 257 yards.

“He’s real good. Last week we got him going in the second half against [Fairfield] Prep and he was the difference in that game [a 42-13 St. Joseph victory], too,” Cadets coach Joe Della Vecchia said. “He’s just tough to bring down. He’s got great vision, and he’s got the desire to keep going. He’s a special back.”

Also special was St. Joseph’s defense, which all but eliminated Ridgefield’s running game and contained the passing game, beginning with Owen Matthews at quarterback for the Tigers and then, after a sack (ruled a hit to the head) knocked Matthews out of the game, Declan McNamara behind center.

Take out McNamara’s 26-yard gain on a fake punt on the first play of the second quarter, and Ridgefield rushed for a net negative.

“When they did go to the run, our linebackers stepped up big-time,” St. Joseph defensive lineman Mike Morrissey said, and yes, Cole DaSilva, Dennis Rotunno and Alex Pagliarini seemed to be everywhere. “They jammed the holes that were open, and the ones that weren’t open, they obviously couldn’t go through.”

St. Joseph is 6-0. Ridgefield, which hadn’t allowed a point in its previous three games, is 5-1.

The Tigers turned the ball over twice in St. Joseph territory in the first half and had a field goal blocked by Owen DaSilva.

“Turnovers off positive plays, and one went for a touchdown,” Ridgefield coach Kevin Callahan said. “That’s a 14-point swing. If we go in at 7-0, or even if we’re fortunate enough to put one in, 14-7, it’s a different ballgame.

“The kids did a great job. They believed. They came out here and played with that belief. Sometimes, you play against someone that’s as good as they are, it’s hard to stand up and overcome.”

The defensive touchdown was Morrissey’s — a 53-yard return off a fumbled handoff attempt — that put St. Joseph ahead 14-0.

“It’s funny, my knee was about to be down, but I saw the open room in front of me,” Morrissey said. “I was like, ‘I’ve got to take this opportunity. If I get tackled, I get tackled, but get some yards while I could.’ ”

Della Vecchia said he couldn’t repeat his halftime speech on camera; the gist was apparently that his team needed to play with more passion.

Its first drive of the second half seemed poised to sputter near midfield. A delay-of-game penalty made it third and 8. The coach called time out. And on the next play, Jack Wallace lofted a pass that Will Diamantis reached back for and caught before outracing the Ridgefield defense to the left pylon for a 59-yard touchdown and a 21-0 lead.

Shirden and the defense took it home from there.

Notes: Matthews left the game early in the second quarter. He walked the sideline the rest of the game without his pads.

“He took a pretty good hit to the head, unfortunately,” Callahan said. “Unfortunately there was a little bit of that out here.”

The Ridgefield sideline wasn’t happy with several other St. Joseph hits, though only one other was flagged. Coaches from both teams were talking as the players shook hands, and Della Vecchia sought out Matthews for a brief conversation afterward.

“I just said hang in there,” Della Vecchia said. “I know he took a shot; when I looked at it on film, it looked OK to me, but I’m going to take another look at it. Just hope he’s all right. He’s a tough kid, a great competitor. I don’t want to see a kid get hurt like that. It was a physical game throughout. Both teams played extremely hard and went after it.”