Blue Knights play bigger by tackling, battling, loving harder

REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

Norwich Free Academy had a distinct size advantage over Southington on both sides of the lines in Saturday’s nightcap for the Class LL-Large title. That mattered absolutely none.

The Blue Knights held one of the state’s most potent running games to just 90 yards in their 49-0 victory. NFA quarterback Jawuan Johnson and Khaleed Exum-Strong had both run for 300 yards in the same game twice this season. There was nowhere for them to go against Southington’s front seven.

“It’s just a gang tackling mentality,” Southington coach Mike Drury said. “Our guys are great tacklers and we win the battle up front. We’re smaller but we’re quicker and we have really good strength. We were able to counteract a lot of things they were trying to do.”

Matt Thomson, who was Southington’s second leading tackler in the game with 10, said his team’s defensive success comes mostly because of the players always being on the same page.

“Teams might be bigger, better and faster than us,” he said, “but there’s not one team in the state or the nation that loves each other as much as us.”

Jamele’s big nights: Southington wide receiver Alex Jamele had plenty of great games in his career for the Blue Knights, but his best two may have been in state finals.

In Southington’s 52-34 win over Fairfield Prep in last year’s Class LL final, Jamele caught 10 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns. Saturday night against NFA, he caught seven balls for 127 yards and two touchdowns along with a 62-yard punt-return touchdown and an interception.

He also caught a 64-yard pass on third-and-31 deep inside Southington territory when it was still a 7-0 game in the first. That helped open the floodgates on the night, which eventually saw Jamele catch his state record-breaking 50th career touchdown.

“Coach (Drury) gave me a little sign on the side,” Jamele said of the long conversion. “I feel like we can score on every single play, no matter the down and distance.”

“That’s a play we put in this week and repped the heck out of it because we knew we might be in a situation in which we’d need it,” Drury said. “We set it up the play before. Jay threw a great ball and Alex got open.”

Unprecedented day: Saturday’s seven state championships at Willowbrook Park, Central Connecticut State University and West Haven High combined to produce the closest set of state finals in CIAC history.

Three games Valley Regional’s 21-20 win over Ansonia in Class S-Large, New Canaan’s 21-20 victory over Darien in Class L-Large and Xavier’s 28-27 overtime win over Shelton in Class LL-Small were decided by one point.

There had never been a championship weekend, dating back to the first tournament in 1976, with multiple one-point games. There hadn’t been a one-point championship since 2002, when Ridgefield earned a 14-13 win over Windsor.

Xavier’s overtime win over Shelton was also the first state final to reach overtime since 2009, when Cheshire gained a 28-21 victory over Staples

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