Gridiron greatness; The 1954 football team was the best of the best

Cassella scored twice in week two and added a pair of extra point conversions as Southington cruised past Woodrow Wilson, 47-7. Six different players scored and another four scores were called back by penalties as Southington began a four-game home stand that carried them past Darien and Milford Prep. It culminated in Southington’s first Class A opponent, a 40-7 win over Torrington in late October that pushed Southington into the second spot in the state rankings.

“It was talked about all over the place,” said Meade. “I look back on it now, and it was such a good experience. Every game that we played, the place was sold out. Everywhere we went, we had a big following. Even when we went out of town, everybody came with us.”

The wins kept coming. Palmieri kick-started November with three scores in a 32-6 win over Staples. Thorpe ran into the end zone twice in the following game, passed for two more, and scored a 105-yard interception return and six extra points during a 60-12 rout against Plainville.

Then came Thanksgiving Day, and Southington rushed for 156 yards and passed for 106 on their way to a 46-0 shutout that ended the holiday rivalry with Meriden.

“They came over with a big team. When we got down to the football field, they were already warming up. They stretched from the 50 yard line to the end zone. They must have had over 70 players on the team, and we had maybe 30,” said Meade. “The place was just jammed with people, and we rolled right over them.”

The Thanksgiving game highlighted Southington’s defense and special teams as the locals scored on a blocked kick, a kickoff return, and an interception.

“One area that didn’t get enough notoriety was our defense and special teams,” said Thorpe. “I don’t know the actual numbers, but I’d say that one thing that allowed us to score as many points as we did was that our defense was so effective.”

This team was as close to perfect as any in town history. With 10 different players scoring touchdowns and five players combining for 28 extra points, it was probably Southington’s deepest group of skilled players. The team was able to survive an early injury to Cassella and a pair of serious injuries to Terry and Zakrewski to finish with 31 rushing touchdowns, 11 passing touchdowns, and six interceptions returned for scores.

In the final state poll, Southington received five first place votes but finished second to Notre Dame-West Haven. Jerry Clements (end), Joe Llodra (guard), and Ray Thorpe (back) accounted for one quarter of the all-state roster. The perfect 8-0 record was the fourth in Fontana’s career, but it might have been the best.

That has sparked a debate that has spanned the last six decades. What is the best football team in Southington’s storied history? Most historians say that it comes down to the 1949 and 1954 teams. Fontana never said publically which team was better, but it has been a favorite topic amongst players for either team.

“There’s always been a debate about which team was better. Was it the ‘49 team or the ‘54 team? That debate will go on forever,” said Cassella. “I’ve always thought that we could have beaten them, but if you ask the players on the 49 team they’d say that they would have won. I think that the true winner in that debate is Southington High School.”

Now, both teams will be recognized by the Southington Sports Hall of Fame. On Thursday, Nov. 8, the 1954 team will be inducted in a ceremony at the Aqua Turf Club in Plantsville. For tickets, contact Jim Verderame, (860) 628-7335.

To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at jgoralski@southington observer.com.

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