FAIRFIELD – Joe Della Vecchia played. Boy, did he ever.
The St. Joseph quarterback dismissed all rumors of a nagging leg injury by dazzling the estimated 500 fans at Fairfield Ludlowe High Tuesday night en route to the Cadets’ 48-12 win over Woodland in the Class S quarterfinals.
Della Vecchia’s stat line that wasn’t half-bad: 14-of-20 passing for 307 yards and five touchdowns with six rushes for 51 more yards. That so-called injury might as well have never happened.
“He told me right before the game he was 100 percent and felt great,” St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia said. “Two days ago I was really concerned, but he felt a lot better yesterday and he showed he was ready today.”
Woodland coach Tim Shea said he wasn’t taken by surprise that the state’s third-leading passer was on the field.
“I knew the kid was gonna play,” Shea said. “I know that if I was in his shoes nothing would stop me from playing. He’s a great athlete.”
The lack of a surprise didn’t help the Hawks (7-4), who were at the mercy of Della Vecchia all night, particularly in the first half when St. Joseph (8-3) took a 27-0 lead.
When the teams hit the locker room, Della Vecchia already had thrown for 224 yards and four scores on 10-of-13 passing.
Della Vecchia didn’t let Woodland’s defense sniff any sort of rhythm. Each of his four first-half touchdown passes hit different receivers on different types of plays.
His first touchdown, which came at the 3:57 mark of the first quarter, capped an incredible escape in which he moved left, right, backwards, and forwards before finding Quinn Irwin over the middle for a 37-yard touchdown.
Della Vecchia changed the pace with a 26-yard screen pass to Tyler Matakevich for a touchdown to make it 13-0 early in the second before he dropped a perfect pass over the top and into the end zone for Joe Burns to extend the lead to 20-0 just 15 minutes into the game.
As if that weren’t enough, Della Vecchia led his team to a score after starting with the ball at his own 1-yard line following a failed fourth-and-goal chance for Woodland. Six plays later, the quarterback hit Jerry Kramer on a slant for a 77-yard touchdown to make it 27-0 before the half.
“I thought we could throw on them,” Coach Della Vecchia said of the Cadets’ game plan, which was no secret by St. Joseph’s second drive. “I didn’t think they had the kids to match with our kids. They were stuffing the run and I thought they were challenging us to throw.”
The Hawks were able to move the ball somewhat effectively in the middle of the field, running plays in St. Joseph territory on three of five full first-half drives.
Woodland abandoned its running game in the first two quarters and instead relied on the arm of Jack DeBiase, who was betrayed by a few errant throws and a few drops by his receivers.
Crucial drives stalled in the first quarter at the St. Joseph 27 and in the second at the Cadets’ 1-yard line, where a fourth-and-goal pass intended for Jake Pinho fell incomplete.
“We do what we have to do to score,” Shea said about the high volume of passing. “If that’s what we had open, that’s what we were going to take.”
DeBiase got the Hawks on the board on their first series of the second half with a perfect, 53-yard touchdown pass to Rahmi Rountree to make it 27-6.
Twenty-one unanswered points by the Cadets put the game completely out of reach, but DeBiase kept plugging away and finished with 28 carries for 193 yards—enough to pass Pat Krakowski for Woodland’s career rushing record.
“He deserves it,” Shea said of DeBiase’s record, which stands at 3,640 yards, eclipsing Krakowski’s mark of 3,602. “He didn’t do it on his own, but it’s a well-earned record. But right now nobody’s going to reflect on that record with a loss that stings like this.”
DeBiase also broke the school records for solo tackles and total tackles, previously held by Shane Kingsley and Mike Stankus, respectively.
Shea said when the team, with its five seniors, reflects on this season, it will go down in the books as a successful bunch of overachievers.
“These kids will be able to look back and see that we had a pretty successful season,” Shea said. “I told them in the huddle, if this is the worst thing that ever happens to you, you’re going to have a pretty successful life.”