Class L 1st Round
Spoelstra’s OT kick sends St. Joseph football past Hand into Class L semifinal
BRIDGEPORT — Logan Spoelstra said he was “super nervous” when it was time for him to kick an extra point in overtime and save St. Joseph from Hand in what had been a championship-caliber CIAC Class L quarterfinal game Tuesday night.
Who could blame him? The sophomore had already missed 30-yard field goal earlier in the game and he had just been his counterpart from Hand get his potential game-winning field goal and his overtime extra point blocked.
But his teammates had faith. His coaches had faith. And, Spoelstra said later, perhaps the almighty had a hand in the outcome.
Everyone’s faith appears to have been rewarded. Spoelstra’s winning extra point was perfect and catapulted St. Joseph to a 21-20 victory over Hand and into the Class L semifinals Sunday.
“I’ve got to give all the glory to my team, my teammates — they’re the best in the world,” Spoelstra said. “And I have to give all the glory to God. He gave me this ability.
“But it’s that team right there that’s special,” he said, pointing to his delirious teammates. “They give me everything.”
The Hogs, who have now won 10-consecutive playoff games dating back to the 2017 playoffs, advance to face Windsor in the semifinals at a site to be determined. It will be a rematch of a 45-22 St. Joseph victory at Windsor on Sept. 24.
“We don’t talk to kickers (before kicks),” said St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia, whose team improved to 10-1. “I don’t even think he realized they called time out. He was still standing out there fixing his tee.
“He missed a field goal earlier and came back to make that clutch kick. I’m happy for the kid. He’s a sophomore and he’s won a few games for us with field goals. He’s done a great job for us.”
St. Joseph, the top seed, needed to fight for every inch against a Hand squad that had started the season 0-2 and 2-3, but won five consecutive games to set up this rematch of the Class L championship game two years ago, won by St. Joseph.
“I’m so proud of my boys,” said first-year coach Erik Becker, whose team fell to 7-4. “They played with the heart of a champion.”
Indeed, Hand played perhaps one of its most inspiring games of the year against the state’s No. 3-ranked team. Its defense held St. Joseph’s high-scoring offense in check and took a pair of leads on two Patch Flanagan touchdown runs. The second came on 4th and 4 from the St. Joseph 21 to give Hand a 14-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Hand even had a chance to pad its lead before halftime, going for the touchdown on fourth and goal from St. Joseph 5. But Flanagan's pass fell incomplete.
Beginning with a faked punt throw from Matt Morrissey to Anthony Greco on fourth down deep in their own end, the Hogs finally rallied to tie the game at 14-14. Maxwell Warren scored on a short touchdown run with 8 minutes remaining.
Asked why it took his team so long to get its offense in gear, Warren chalked it up to the caliber of the combatants.
“It was just an insane rivalry game,” he said. “Both teams came in playing as hard as they can, butting heads. Look at the score. It was an insane game. What can I say?”
Hand put itself in position to win the game with just under a minute left. Flanagan hit Shane Smith for a 45-yard pass to set up first and goal at the St. Joseph 10.
Hand ran three straight times, seemingly content to play for a field goal, a 20-yard field goal attempt by Marco Mazzarella. But St. Joseph's Joe Adzima -- who also had a key fumble recovery in the first half -- blocked the kick and sent the game to OT.
“I’m going to be real honest with you I was kind of hoping they would play for the field goal,” Della Vecchia said. “We thought we had a good block in during practice and we just laid it all on the table there. Our guys said they were going to block it.”
Just a few minutes later, they duplicated the feat. Flanagan scored Hand’s touchdown in overtime, but St. Joseph junior Tyler daSilva swooped in and blocked Mazzarella’s extra point attempt, giving the offense a chance to win it with a score and Spoelstra a chance to win it with the kick.
On third down, Reilly Jordan (2 TDs) scored from 1 yard out and Mazzarella drilled it through the uprights to send the Hogs into the semifinals for the fourth-consecutive season.
“We don’t say anything to him,” Warren said. “I trust him. I see him at practice, before practice, after practice working on his kicking. I knew I didn’t have to say anything. Sometimes you just have to trust him and let him do what he does.”
ST. JOSEPH 21
HAND 0 7 7 0 6 — 20
ST. JOSEPH 0 7 0 7 7 — 21
H—Patch Flanagan 1 run (Mario Mazzarella kick)
SJ—Reilly Jordan 1 run (Logan Spoelstra kick)
H—Patch Flanagan 21 run (Mozzarella kick)
SJ—Maxwell Warren 1 run (Spoelstra kick)
H—Flanagan 1 run (kick failed)
SJ—Jordan 1 run (Spoelstra kick)
Records: Hand 7-4, St. Joseph 10-1
Updated, Dec. 1: A video review allowed us to identify the St. Joseph players who blocked the two Hand kicks: Joe Adzima and Tyler daSilva.