By John Goralski
Cheshire runners attacked the Southington defense like a con man in a back alley shell game. They plunged up the middle clutching phantom footballs to their bellies. They swept to the outside while the real play went the other way. They disbursed from the snap in a flurry of angles and misdirection with a quarterback directing the play like a magician on the stage.
On Thursday, Nov. 28, it took the Blue Knights just three plays to score on the opening drive, but the four-win Rams rolled up their sleeves and began pulling out every trick. They stole yardage on trick plays. They dove up the middle to claw their way up field. In a six minute drive that took 13 plays, the Rams came within inches of Southington’s end zone.
That’s when the defense finally figured it out. The Rams threw everything they had at the Southington defense, but the first Cheshire drive stalled at the 2 yard line.
“That was a huge stop. That changes the complexity of the game if you think about it,” said Southington defender Zach Maxwell. “That could have put them right back in the game, but that broke them right there.”
But the Rams weren’t entirely finished. For two quarters the four-win underdogs assaulted the Knights with their triple-option attack. On the defensive side, the Rams held Southington’s potent offense to just seven points at the break.
Southington managed to rally for a 38-6 victory in the second half, but at halftime on Thanksgiving morning, the Knights were only leading 7-0.
“When we show up and play the way that we’re capable of playing,” said Ram coach Don Drust. “We’re a good football team. For some reason, we have a hard time coming back from adversity. The second half of this game sort of sums up what our season has been.”
Southington coach Mike Drury thinks it might be something else. The Blue Knight coach is 2-0 in the Apple Valley Classic, but he’s already learned the true lesson about the holiday rivalry. Throw out the records. It’s anyone’s game.
“This rivalry’s great. Like you saw here, nobody—no matter what their record is—is going to come in here and back down,” said Drury. “That’s not the way it is, and it’s not the way it should be. We know it’s going to be a battle year in and year out. You have to weather the storm. You have to play smart football, and do the little things to win games like this.”
In the second half, Southington finally looked like the team on the verge of a postseason home game. Ram running back Jack Cunningham broke open a 58-touchdown run midway through the third quarter, but it was book ended by a pair of Tyler Hyde (52 yards) touchdown runs.
Jasen Rose (6 catches, 74 yards) scored the first receiving touchdown with a three-yard pass midway through the fourth quarter. Southington’s prime receiver Alex Jamele was held to just three catches for 50 yards but he caught a 25-yard touchdown to cap the Blue Knight scoring.
“We knew that they were going to double up on Jamele and try to take him out of the game,” said Blue Knight quarterback Stephen Barmore. “That’s fine because we have a bunch of other weapons that we can use and a bunch of other people that I can throw to. Jay Rose had a huge catch and run. Joe Daigle and Kyle Borawski also had catches. We can spread the field if we need to, and that’s what we did today.”
Stephen Barmore scrambled for 47 yards on the ground and 190 yards passing, and Southington’s defense did the rest as they limited Cheshire to just over 150 yards after the first Ram possession. Zak Jamele paced the blitz with 18 tackles and 1.5 sacs. Maxwell finished with 13 tackles, 1.5 sacs, and a fumble recovery. Zack Spooner recovered two fumbles, and Steven Hamel recovered another.
With the victory, Southington improved to 9-1, while Cheshire fell to 4-6. Bolstered by Thanksgiving Day losses by New Milford and NFA, and aided by a number of other decisions in holiday contests, Southington climbed up two places in the Class LL playoff rankings to secure a home game against NFA in the opening round on Tuesday.
“We’re excited, but bottom line is that we were in playoff mode a couple of weeks back,” Drury said before the final pairings were announced. “It’s one game at a time. We’re going to look at who the opponent is and prepare for it.”
Now comes the fun part…
Apple Valley Classic Awards
Offensive Awards—Stephen Barmore scrambled for 47 yards and one touchdown on the ground to lead the Knight attack, and the senior co-captain completed 14 passes to five receivers for 190 yards and two scores. Jack Cunningham kept the Rams in the game with a 58-yard score early in the second half and finished with 71 yards rushing and 13 yards receiving. Both were named as the offensive MVPs.
Defensive Awards—Zach Maxwell had 13 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a fumble recovery to earn his second defensive MVP award. Tony Marcucilli had an interception and a fumble recovery to earn the defensive MVP trophy for the Rams.
Player of the Game—Stephen Barmore scored three times, ran for 47 yards, passed for 190 yards, and collected three tackles to earn the Player of the Game trophy.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at jgoralski@ southingtonobserver.com.