By John Goralski
Matt Maxwell leapt into the air to bat down a pass in the final minute of the half. Zach Maxwell thundered through the Fairfield Prep linemen two plays later to drag the Jesuit quarterback down for a loss of two yards.
It didn’t seem like much at the time when Fairfield Prep was forced to punt the ball with less than one minute left in the half, but it marked a turning point in the Class LL championship game. The Jesuits dominated much of the first half. Fairfield Prep led Southington by 14 points at two different times, but Southington’s defense was about to stop the offensive shootout.
Well, at least Fairfield Prep’s part in the offensive tug-of-war came to an end. That was Mike Drury’s message at the half when he addressed his Blue Knight team.
“We made a couple of stops, and that’s a big thing against a team like that,” said the coach. “You’ve got to stop them. We played physical. We were hitting, and that’s the sort of team we are. We made some crushing hits that I think turned the tide a little bit.”
The momentum carried into the second half. Fairfield Prep was forced to punt in each of their first three possessions at the start of the half, while Southington’s offense turned up the heat. Tyler Hyde and Stephen Barmore kept the Knights in the game with short touchdown runs in the first half, but in the second half the Knights took to the air.
“It was just about execution,” said Barmore. “We weren’t executing a lot of stuff that we usually execute. We sort of buckled down, and we did what he had to do in the second half.”
Alex Jamele kick started the attack with a 60 yard touchdown reception and a 42-yard pass on the next possession that set up his second score, a nine-yard pass from Barmore that tied the game, 28-28. The two were far from finished.
“We weren’t going to give up. We weren’t going to come all the way down here just to sit down,” said Jamele, who caught 10 passes for 230 yards with three touchdowns to push his single season state record to 29. “We came out in the second half, and it was a good, team effort win. We all have heart on this team. It’s all about running angry. I haven’t wanted anything as much as this my whole life, and this is the best feeling I’ve ever had.”
In the second half, Barmore picked apart the Jesuit defense, completing 22-of-33 passes (.667) for four touchdowns, and Southington scored on each of their first four possessions of the second half. Kyle Smick went 7-for-7 on extra point kicks, but it was a 21 yard field goal with 10:35 remaining in the game that gave Southington their first lead.
Defensively, the Knights held the potent Jesuit offense to 146 yards after the break with most of that coming on a 70-yard run by Fairfield quarterback Colton Smith. That run set up the last Jesuit lead at 34-33. Their next two longest drives resulted in turnovers.
“We made a couple of adjustments defensively to try to counteract some of the blocking schemes that they were doing, and we just told our guys that we weren’t going to stop,” said Drury. “We had to be tenacious. We had to be ferocious. We had to get to the ball. We had to continue our pursuit and all that good stuff. Stephen did a great job. Tyler Hyde, the offensive line, and all the receivers did a great job. We moved the ball up and down the field.”
With just over eight minutes to go, Southington took the lead for good on a short 7 yard touchdown pass up the middle to Jasen Rose. Matt Thompson stopped the next Fairfield drive with an interception at midfield that set up another Southington score. With two minutes remaining, Barmore intercepted a pass and returned it 67 yards to put the game out of reach.
With a 52-37 victory, the Knights captured their first state title since 1998.
“It’s unbelievable. To bring it back to Southington is just an amazing feeling,” said Barmore. “Having the entire community behind us is an amazing feeling, and to get this out here with my teammates is the best feeling in the world.”
With the victory, Southington improved to 12-1 and it broke a three-game losing streak in championship games. The Knights earned the Class LL championship title to join New Canaan (Class L), St. Joseph (Class M), and Ansonia (Class S) as this fall’s winter champions.
The game marked the final contest for Barmore and 15 other seniors.
“These seniors deserve this,” said Drury. “They worked harder than anyone I’ve ever seen. They took it upon themselves and they worked to get to this point, and they deserve everything that they got.”
“It’s going to hit me hard tomorrow,” said Barmore. “It’s going to be bittersweet. It’s awesome that we won in my senior year, but I’m leaving a great group of guys—guys that are like my brothers. It’s been an honor to play for them these four years.”
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at jgoralski@ southingtonobserver.com.