By JOHN GORALSKI
The Blue Knight offense used a pair of runs to space out three passes on the opening drive as the Knights steamrolled 74 yards across the field in the opening two minutes. On the fifth play of the game, Jasen Rose connected a 51-yard pass to Alex Jamele, and Southington took the lead for good.
On Saturday, Nov. 29, Thanksgiving fans came out in numbers despite a two-day weather delay, but they didn’t have to wait long for the offense to heat up. Southington raced out to a 27-7 lead at halftime and cruised to a 44-7 win over Cheshire.
For the Rams (8-3), it ended any hopes for a playoff berth. For Southington, the lopsided victory capped a perfect 10-0 regular season with the go-ahead victory in the Apple Valley Classic. The Knights lead the series, 10-9.
“These are rivalry games,” said Blue Knight coach Mike Drury. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in the playoffs or out of the playoffs. You want to win these games. Cheshire came out and played hard. Our guys just stepped up and played a great game. We brought the energy and the intensity the entire game.”
Rose looked to be in postseason form as he picked apart the Rams defense for 298 yards and four scores by halftime. At the break, Rose had four different receivers with five catches apiece, and the junior quarterback finished with 418 yards and five touchdown throws to four different receivers.
“You guys see the receivers I have. They are unbelievable,” Rose said after the game. “I have athletes all around the ball. All my throws were not there, but kids just go up and make the catches. They are the ones that turn them into big plays.”
Once again Jamele was the primary target, catching 10 passes for 147 yards. He caught two touchdown passes for the Knights to push his career total to 47 touchdown receptions, just one shy of the current state record (currently held by Newtown senior Julian Dunn).
“It’s really cool. I knew that I was close or something, but that’s not really important to me compared to the team win that we just had,” he said. “It’s pretty cool. I’m not going to lie, but it’s definitely more important to get the win.”
Jamele wasn’t the only one to reach the end zone for the Knights. Matt Maxwell (9 catches, 109 yards)
caught a pair of touchdown passes in the second quarter give the Knights breathing room at the break, and Austin Morin (86 yards) caught a 41 yard score in the final minute of the opening half.
On the ground, Southington backs ran for 95 yards and a second half score. Vance Upham led the way with 10 carries for 72 yards. Alessio Diana (40 yards) opened the second half with a 1 yard plunge into the end zone.
Dan Parzych went 5-for-6 in extra point kicks and capped the scoring with a 24-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter.
“Everybody was on point today,” said Rose. “Cheshire’s line is no joke. They have some big dudes, but our line just held them off. That was the biggest part of the game. We can’t do anything without our line, and they did their job perfectly.”
Defensively, the Knights pitched another perfect shutout. All-state hopeful Andrew Yamin came into the contest with 2,339 rushing yards over nine games (234 yards per game), but Southington’s defense held him to just 25 yards on 14 attempts. Cheshire’s offense managed just 77 yards rushing and 99 yards in the air, as the Knights stymied the Rams attack.
“Cheshire was talking trash, and we were talking trash [before the game],” said Rose. “Everyone knew that they were coming for our perfect season. They said it in their newspapers, but that was kind of our motivation. Either they were going to ruin our perfect season, or we were going to end their careers. That’s what we did.”
Matt Thomson paced the Southington blitz with 10 tackles, an interception, and a forced fumble. Matt Koczera had nine tackles. Steve Hamel had six tackles and a fumble recovery. John Meade, Logan LaRosa, and Peter Majchrzak each recovered fumbles as Southington won the turnover battle, 5-2.
The only blemish of the day was an 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the opening half after Southington’s second score.
“We had guys just making tackles. That’s what defense is all about—11 guys doing their job, rallying to the football, and not giving up that big play,” said Drury. “They came back with a kick return, and we were pretty upset about that. We’ll clean that up, but our guys responded well. That’s what this game is all about—the ebb and flow of the game, responding well, and when something bad happens bouncing back.”
With the victory, Southington earned the top seed among Class LL-large schools. With Bristol Eastern upsetting Bristol Central in the annual Battle of the Bell, Glastonbury (8-3) snuck into the postseason as the No. 4 seed.
The Knights will host the Tomahawks for a semifinal game on Saturday, Dec. 6 at 2 p.m. in a rematch of week one. Southington edged Glastonbury, 41-38, in the first meeting. Southington dominated the line of scrimmage in the season opener, out-rushing the Tomahawks, 182 yards-58 yards, and out-passing them, 219 yards-71 yards, but the game was punctuated by a number of Southington miscues and penalties.
“You can always play better,” said Drury before the tournament seedings were finalized. “We’re going to look at today and look at what we can clean up and what we can do better. We’ll see who we’re playing and figure out how we’re going to defend them and attack them.”
2014 Apple Valley Classic Awards
Offensive Awards—Jasen Rose went 30-for-37 passing (81.1 percent) for 418 yards and five touchdowns. Jack Cunningham scrambled for 50 yards on the ground, threw a trio of passing attempts, and caught two passes for 50 yards. Both were named as the offensive MVPs.
“Jay’s a kid that has really stepped up to be the leader of our offense,” said Drury. “He’s a junior, not a senior, but I told him that this was his offense to run. I told him to take the lead, and every day he’s getting better and better at that.”
Defensive Awards—Matt Thomson led the Blue Knight blitz with 10 tackles, and interception, and a forced fumble. Tyler D’Errico anchored the Cheshire defense. Both were named as defensive MVPs.
“Matt’s a kid that’s always playing his assignment and being in the right position at the right time,” said Drury. “You saw it with the interception. Boom. He picked it and did a great job with the run after the catch.”