By John Goralski
Late in the third quarter, Zach Maxwell leapt into the backfield and tipped the pass into the air. The senior linebacker dove for the loose football, but the interception attempt ricocheted off the ground. Maxwell broke up Ridgefield’s pass attempt, but the near-interception might have been the only play that Southington didn’t convert in their Class LL semifinal rout.
On Saturday, Dec. 7, the fourth seeded Knights shut out No. 8 Ridgefield, 45-0, to earn their first trip to the championship game since 2006. The offense scrambled for six touchdowns, a field goal, and a state record, and Southington earned their first victory at West Haven High School since losing to Xavier in the 2005 Class LL championship game.
Coach Mike Drury hopes that the resounding victory finally quieted any ghosts that have plagued the Knights in recent years.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” said the second year coach. “It’s what you work for year round, and the kids deserve this. They did a great job.”
Alex Jamele led the charge. After a failed field goal attempt on Southington’s first possession, Jamele capped a nine-play scoring drive with a 22 yard pass from Stephen Barmore. Jamele opened the second quarter with a 41-yard interception and put the game out of reach with a 29-yard reception that gave the Knights a 21-0 lead.
The touchdown was Jamele’s 26th in his junior season, and it put him in sole possession of the state record. It broke the previous record of 25 set by Anthony Scirpo in 2012.
“Alex is a dynamic player out there. He makes plays, but he’s also a great blocker,” said Drury. “That’s what makes him a great player. He doesn’t just catch touchdowns. He does all the little things that a great receiver does.”
Southington’s offense wasn’t finished. Matt Thompson recovered a fumble for the second time in the postseason, and it set up another Southington score with Kyle Smick’s 22 yard field goal. Jasen Rose scored in the final minutes of the half to give Southington a 31-0 lead at the break
For the second game in a row, Barmore converted three touchdown passes. The senior co-captain completed 53.8 percent of his passes (14-for-26) for 192 yards. Jamele led all receivers with six catches for 79 yards, and Tyler Hyde led the rushers with 22 carries for 153 yards.
Hyde scored both of Southington’s second half scores with short runs in the third quarter, and the Knights emptied the bench to avoid the 50-point rule.
“We have a lot of tremendous athletes on this team, and Tyler and Alex are just two,” said Barmore. “We have Zach Maxwell, Jay Rose, and Matt Maxwell. There are a lot of guys I can throw the ball to and a lot of weapons both offensively and defensively.”
If the offense was dominant, the defense was even better as they posted their third shutout of the season. Zak Jamele and Matt Koczera led the pressure with 10 tackles apiece. Steven Hamel and Alex Jamele had eight tackles apiece, and Zak Spooner had seven. Jamele and Hyde both scored interceptions. Chris Kelley recovered a fumble.
“We only had three days to practice, but we just worked hard in those three days to get ready for these guys. We worked our butts off all week, and as you can see by the scoreboard, we did an excellent job preparing for this game,” said Hyde. “The defense has been able to accomplish great things. They’ve been able to stop them on third and fourth downs. Then, we’ve had Smick with our punts. He’s been unbelievable throughout the playoffs, and he’s got to keep doing that.”
With the victory, Southington returns to the Class LL finals for the first time since 2006. The kick-off is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 14 at Central CT State University as the final game in a state championship triple-header. The game is scheduled for 6:05 p.m.
The Knights will face No. 7 Fairfield Prep. The Jesuits outlasted West Haven in a see saw semifinal battle with six lead changes to earn their bid for the championship game. Prep foiled a late West Haven scoring attempt to hold a three point lead with one minute to go, and they gave up a safety on purpose to secure a 29-28 win.
With the win, Fairfield Prep advanced to the championship game for the first time in almost two decades. The Jesuits won their last appearance in 1988. Southington is 0-3 in championship games since winning their last state title in 1998.
“I’d like to say what I usually say, that it’s just another game, but it feels awesome,” said Barmore. “I think Fairfield Prep will travel really well. It’s a state championship, but I think it’s really cool that we’re going to be able to drive 10 minutes and we’re right there, and I’m expecting to get a really good crowd on our side.”
Tickets are available at the SHS athletic office or at the gate. Cost is $10, and children 5 and under are free.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at jgoralski@ southingtonobserver.com.