By Mark Jaffee
Special to The Observer
Team unity best describes the surging Southington High football team.
When junior defensive lineman Matt Koczera was asked about his three quarterback sacks in the Blue Knights’ decisive 52-14 win over Norwich Free Academy Tuesday night in the Class LL quarterfinals, he said he didn’t have a clue that he had that many and added that individual statistics didn’t matter to him.
“What matters to me is that we had a team victory,” said Koczera. “Everyone played hard and together.”
That’s a very fair assessment when you consider the many contributions by the fourth-seeded Blue Knights (10-1), who will advance into Saturday’s 2 p.m. semifinal against eighth-seeded Ridgefield at West Haven High.
For openers, Southington senior running back Thomas Hyde scored four rushing touchdowns, the latter two on 39-yard runs.
“The offensive line did an amazing job and our defense did, too,” said Hyde. “They gave us great field position to work with.”
Yale-bound quarterback Stephen Barmore threw for three touchdowns of 50 yards to Zach Maxwell, nine yards to Alex Jamele and 21 yards to Joe Daigle.
And not to be lost in the mix was placekicker Kyle Smick, who booted a 30-yard field goal, his seventh of the season, just 48 seconds into the game.
Smick also connected on all seven PAT kicks, giving him 58 out of 59 attempts for the season. Smick also helped the Blue Knights win the field-position battle with his punts and kickoffs.
“Kyle did an incredible job for us,” said Barmore. “We played a great football team, but we just played really well.”
Southington middle linebacker Zak Jamele intercepted a pass in late the fourth quarter to put the finishing on the victory. Jamele credited his defensive front line.
“The defensive linemen played like wild bandits,” said Jamele.
The Blue Knights were focused on the Wildcats’ potent running game and contained junior Khaleed Exum-Strong from the outset. Boston College recruit Marcus Outlow, slowed by a recent shoulder injury, was limited to just a couple of carries in the first quarter.
The Blue Knights’ defense never eased up on the pressure on NFA quarterback Alexander Beaudreault.
“We wanted to come out strong and we really were focused on what we had to do,” said Southington junior linebacker Steven Hamel, who had a couple of sacks. “This was our best game of the season, defensively.”
Southington coach Mike Drury definitely liked what he saw from his unit.
“We had to play physical and fast and we did that,” said Drury, who noted it was Southington ‘s first playoff win since 2006, the year it lost in the final. “We played great in all three phases of the game.”
Even with a 24-0 halftime lead, the Blue Knights weren’t satisfied, recalling a 21-0 halftime lead to Hall of West Hartford at midseason. Southington would lose that game, 49-37, the only one so far this year.
Since then, the Blue Knights have won six in a row. including four games where the they have scored more than 50 points.
“We knew that we had to keep going strong and continue to battle hard with a big halftime lead,” said Koczera. “We never let up.”
To which Hyde said, “We are moving on and still have a chance for a state championship ring. It’s a great feeling.”