By John Goralski
Nobody’s going to remember Southington’s trio of interceptions in the first half or the 12-0 deficit. No one’s going to remember the four Southington drives in the second half that were pushed back or stalled by Manchester defenders. Fans won’t remember the final two-minute drill plagued by incomplete passes, a penalty, and a broken pass in the end zone.
But they’ll always remember the final catch.
On Friday, Nov. 9, Manchester did everything but win as they frustrated the Knights through 48 minutes of gridiron gridlock. They rumbled and stumbled their way through Southington’s highly-touted defense for 158 yards as they wound down the clock. Their secondary shadowed Blue Knight receivers every step of the way, but it still wasn’t enough.
Connor John converted a pair of fourth down plays in the final two minutes and nearly caught the game-winner in the final 10 seconds, but on the final play the Knights took their first lead of the game. Barmore looped a pass from 30 yards out as two defenders drove him into the grass. Corbin Garry shook off a pair of Indian defenders to find some space in the end zone.
Manchester players stood in stunned silence as Blue Knights spilled onto the field in celebration. For the first time since 2007, Southington will take the field on Thanksgiving Day with a 9-0 record.
“The cornerback that was covering me slipped, and I knew that [Stephen] Barmore was looking at me the whole way,” Garry said just moments after teammates bathed him in a cooler of icy water. “The safety under-read the ball, and I had him right over the top. It was a great throw by Barmore.”
Barmore said that he never saw the catch. “I did see him open for a short second, but as soon as I threw the ball I got hit on the ground,” he said. “I was laying on the ground thinking that the game was over, but I looked up. Corbin caught the ball and everyone was going crazy. I laid back down on the ground.”
For most of the game, it looked like Southington’s quest for an undefeated season was coming to an end. Barmore completed 17 of his 35 passes for 230 yards, but Manchester capitalized on an early interception to take a 6-0 lead and entered the second quarter with a 12-0 lead. Still, Barmore’s eight-yard touchdown run in the waning minutes of the second quarter pulled the Knights within five points at the break.
“I don’t think we ever clicked over the course of the game,” said Barmore. “I think we were able to string a few big plays together, but I don’t think we every really got to that point that we have been over the last few games when our offense was just running like a machine. Luckily, we had those big plays at the end of the game that allowed us to win, but it definitely wasn’t the rhythm that we would have preferred through the entire game.”
Once again, Southington defenders set up the victory. For three quarters, they kept Manchester out of the end zone. The Indians scrambled for 158 yards with their option attack, but Southington’s defense held them to just 50 yards in the air. Zach Maxwell led the blitz with 13 tackles. Nick Spitz and Justin Rose collected 12 tackles apiece, and Travis Daly added 11. Dave Palladino led off the fourth quarter with a key interception, and the Blue Knight starters continued their trend of scoreless second halves.
“We do consider ourselves somewhat of a second half team because we’re able to make those adjustments to come out better in the second half, but the defense—game in and game out—just dominates the second half,” said Barmore. “That’s what set up that last drive. They set us up with good field position, and we were able to convert.”
It still wasn’t easy. Connor John rallied for catches of five yards and 20 yards on fourth down plays in the final two minutes. He advanced the ball across midfield with a 26-yard catch to the Indian 35 yard line. His second fourth down conversion advanced the ball to the red zone, but two Manchester defenders broke up a touchdown slant across the middle in the final 10 seconds.
“I thought the game was over. I thought that I should have come back to the ball and caught it instead of letting it come to me. That gave them a chance to break up the pass,” John said about the failed attempt in the final seconds. “I thought the game was over. I looked up at the time, and I thought the game was over. Then everyone was yelling at me to come back.”
On the very next play, Southington captured the win when Barmore connected with Garry for a 30-yard score. No extra point attempt was needed, and Southington escaped with a 13-12 win.
“The guys kept battling and made plays. The nerves were high on the sidelines. Everyone was tense, and we just told them to calm down and just make a play,” said Southington coach Mike Drury. “We were there. We put drives together this game offensively, but we just weren’t making the plays. They just made the plays, finally, at the right time.”
Now, the Knights will try to cap the season a win on Thanksgiving. Cheshire (6-3) enters the game after a decisive 33-0 win over Hamden, and the Rams look to continue their five game winning streak in the Apple Valley Classic. Southington will try to break their trend of slow starts with a No. 1 seed in the Class LL tournament hanging in the balance.
“It’s the Thanksgiving Day game, and it’s an enormous rivalry. Our guys are really excited for it, and I know that Cheshire is too,” said Drury. “You can throw team records out the window for those games. We’ve just got to prepare and get ready to get after it.”
It will be the first home game on Southington’s artificial turf complex. Kick-off is scheduled for 10:30 am on Thanksgiving morning.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at jgoralski@ southingtonobserver.com.