Jeff Jacobs: St. Joseph makes its case for No. 1

TRUMBULL — The watch read 3:45 p.m. The Twitter feed read Wilton 36, Darien 35 with 10:35 remaining. The scoreboard in this battle between two of the top five teams in Connecticut read Greenwich 20, St. Joseph’s 17.

Forget Saturday’s postgame questions, I was already practicing my postgame questions for Sunday’s postgame with Lou Marinelli after the No. 3 New Canaan-No. 6 Norwalk showdown.

“So, Lou, how does it feel to be No. 1 in the state?”

That’s when GameTimeCT senior producer Pete Paguaga walked past on the Cardinals’ sideline and said, “If Greenwich and Wilton win, then Norwalk has to win.”

Imagine that? Our entire view of who’s the best team in the state would be blown to smithereens.

I already had pronounced at halftime, “After 44 years as a sports writer, now I’ve seen everything.” And it had nothing to do with the game.

It’s homecoming weekend at St. Joseph’s. And as part of the intermission festivities, the homecoming court was presented. When they got to king and queen out walked Maddigan Leifer in her sash and tiara carrying a giant Fathead-like cutout of the king attached to a pole. The king’s head belonged to quarterback Matt Morrissey.

“When we found out yesterday, I knew Matt wouldn’t be able to come out,” said Leifer, an outstanding lacrosse player. “We were making the cutouts of all the seniors, so I decided to bring his out.”

You know how they carry giant pictures of Kim Jong-un in North Korea or the supreme leader of Iran or the pope in parades? It was a little like that.

“I had no idea,” said St. Joe’s coach Joe Della Vecchia after the No. 2 Hogs squeaked out a 24-20 win over No. 4 Greenwich on a Morrissey touchdown pass and Dhallas Morgan interception. “And he’s my nephew.”

So now it’s 4:30 p.m. and the world suddenly was making some sense again. Darien, No. 1 in the GameTimeCT media poll, ran off three late touchdowns to beat Wilton 56-36 in a game far closer than the final score.

And here were Morrissey and Morgan talking about the two key plays in this extremely hard-fought FCIAC game and insisting that yes, they played for the No. 1 team in the state.

“We do,” Morgan said. “For sure.”

“I think we are (the No. 1 team),” Morrissey said, “especially after coming out here and beating this team. Greenwich is a great team. It was a dogfight, really. I think we proved our point.”

In this past week’s Day of New London coaches poll, St. Joe’s was No. 1 and Darien No. 2. Nine coaches had the Hogs No. 1. Four had the Blue Wave.

In the media poll, 19 had Darien at No. 1. Four had St. Joe’s.

With the scores of both of their games bouncing back and forth, I was also bouncing back and forth between two ledes:

“Media way smarter than coaches.”

“Coaches way smarter than media.”

After Darien and Greenwich both pulled out victories, I decided to bury the lede.

“I don’t know if we’re smarter than anybody,” Della Vecchia said, breaking into a laugh. “We don’t worry about that stuff. At the end of the year, we’ll worry about it or accept what we get. Right now we’re just trying to qualify for a playoff berth.”

We do know this. St. Joe’s cleared hurdle one in a wickedly demanding three-week challenge.

Next week, the Hogs play at No. 7 Ridgefield.

On Oct. 30, they play host to Darien.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a tougher stretch than this,” said Della Vecchia, who has been pocketing state titles left and right in recent years and whose team was picked the state’s No. 1 team in 2019. “It’s a crazy year. You just don’t know.”

After watching Darien wear down Newtown and simply outclass Norwich Free Academy, I felt good in staying with my preseason pick of No. 1. They have size and depth.

Yet, St. Joe’s deserves a bunch of credit for holding off a big, deep Greenwich team in a long, relatively hot and windy afternoon. They certainly are entitled to their argument as No. 1.

“We needed this one,” Della Vecchia said. “It’s hard to beat Greenwich. The wind kind of dictated what he had to do and I was really impressed with how we ran the ball. We toughed it out. They’re so much bigger than us. We just gutted it out.

“A lot of guys went down with injuries, cramps, all kinds of stuff. At the end, it was like, ‘OK, who’s playing what position?’ Trying to figure out if they know how to play this defense. But give our kids credit. We had two sophomores make interceptions.”

St. Joe’s failed to score in the first quarter for the first time this season. Forty-five percent of their points had come in the first quarter. Although they scrambled back for a 10-7 halftime lead, the Hogs also fell behind in a game for the first time.

Then it got crazy. After Morrissey scored on a quarterback sneak to make it 17-7, Chason Barber, Tiki’s son, caught a 28-yard touchdown pass. Sergot Boone, Aaron’s son, punched an onside kick that Greenwich recovered and went on to take a 20-17 third quarter lead.

That’s when the homecoming king pitched an 18-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Hutchison in the corner of the end zone.

“We practice that all the time,” Morrissey said. “We know that’s the guy we’re throwing to.

“First half, we had started off kind of sloppy,” Morrissey said. “It was going slow. I’m really glad the way we picked it up in the second half. It was a great team win.”

Twice, Greenwich launched drives into St. Joe’s territory in the fourth quarter. Twice, sophomores picked off Jack Wilson passes. Ethan Long intercepted the first one with 10:02 left. And when Greenwich pushed into the red zone in a riveting finish, Morgan pulled the ball away from Zach Mantione at the 10-yard line with 1:15 remaining.

“I saw the ball in the air, and I knew it was mine,” Morgan said. “I snatched it from him, he snatched it back and I snatched it back again. There was a lot going on.”

Morgan has an interesting first name: Dhallas.

“My mom (Natasha Jones) is a Cowboys fan,” Morgan explained. “She wanted to name me Dallas, but wanted it to be unique.”

So it is. Just like parading out a giant cardboard head for a homecoming king.

“I didn’t get to see it,” Morrissey said.

Oh, it was grand, Matt.; @jeffjacobs123