By BRIAN JENNINGS
With 5:06 to go in the fourth quarter, Jasen Rose hiked the ball from under center. He handed the ball off to Alessio Diana and sat back and just watched the show. Diana sidestepped two defenders and shook another loose as he streaked down the sideline for an 87-yard dash to the house for his third touchdown of the game.
It may have been a clear, comfortable night for the opening kickoff of the season, but the atmosphere at Southington’s Fontana Field was electric. Lightning struck on numerous occasions as Diana had his way with the defense in the Knight’s 54-9 rout over Manchester on Friday night, Sept. 11.
Diana topped off the night with over 250 yards of total offense, rushing for 127 yards and a touchdown on eight carries and catching four passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns.
“It was great,” said Diana. “I didn’t expect to get 127 yards rushing and receiving, but I knew from the first game that I had to make a statement. I came out strong. It’s only the first game, but let’s see if I can continue carrying that on for the rest of the season.”
Diana’s first score came on an 81-yard catch before the end of the first quarter, with the second coming on a 39-yard catch midway through the third.
Southington coach Mike Drury said that they knew this was what they were going to get out of Diana this year.
“This kid has put a lot of work in during the offseason, more than many,” said Drury. “He was doing the extras all the time and we always had to tell him, ‘Hey, slow it down.’ He came on, and we knew that he was going to be a big receiving threat for us. Running the ball, he’s seeing it great and is taking off. The work he’s put in is really showing out there.”
Southington built a 13-0 lead (missed first PAT) on their first two offensive drives, midway through the first quarter on an 8-yard touchdown catch by Austin Morin and 30-yard touchdown catch by Jacob Testa.
Manchester’s only touchdown of the game came after a botched snap on a fourth-and-five from the Southington 29-yard-line. The Knights were in a punt formation, and the ball was hiked over the punter’s head, which was recovered at the Southington 1-yard-line by Manchester.
The fumble set up a one-yard touchdown run by Manchester’s Edison Galan with a little over two minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Special teams and penalties were the only negatives in the lopsided Southington win.
“Week one is a little sloppier than we want,” said the coach. “We’re still getting things going, losing four days of practice time with the same start date. The biggest thing is coming out with energy, getting the win, playing fast, and playing a physical brand of football. They did that. Was it perfect? It wasn’t, but we’re going to work hard to get better at it.”
The Knights put the game out of reach in the second quarter with a 14-yard touchdown catch by Testa and a 36-yard touchdown catch by Morin, just seconds before halftime, starting the second half with a 34-9 lead. Morin finished the game with seven receptions for 116 yards and two touchdowns. Both of Testa’s touchdown catches resulted as his only two receptions of the game that went for 44 yards.
Manchester’s only other score came on a Robert Garcia field goal, midway through the second quarter. The Knights started putting their backups in the game late in the third quarter.
Rose completed 15 of 20 throws for 303 yards and six touchdowns.
“I guess you can say that my performance was pretty good, but without the time I had with the O-line to keep me away from threats on the outside, none of it could be possible,” said Rose. “I give all the props to them and I thank them for a hell of a game.
Rose’s six touchdowns was a personal-best record, tying Doug Fink (2001) and Matt Kelleher (2005). Fink (2001) and Connor Butkiewicz (2009) hold the school record and are tied the state record with seven touchdowns in a single game.
“Jay was just really on target tonight,” said Drury. “He made one of the best throws I’ve seen in a long time on the far sideline. He’s dialed in and his accuracy is right on target right now. He’s comfortable with what’s going on out there and is taking total control of it.”
Both Diana and Rose gave the offensive line some love, mentioning their names in recognition with their success on the field. Those offensive linemen include A.J. Palumbo, Trevor Godston, Julian Robles, Mark Threlkeld, and Dylan Kulas.
“The offensive line really stepped up,” said Drury. “Those guys were flying all around the field making blocks and really playing fast. We constantly tell the offensive line that the success of the offense goes through them. They’re the hardest workers in practice and they know it. They’re really starting to come together as a great group. I’m impressed with how they’re playing.”
Defensively, Logan LaRosa led the team with 10 total tackles. Matt Cianciolo was right behind with eight total tackles and recovered the team’s only defensive fumble. Chris Minkiewicz had the team’s only defensive interception. Upham, Robert Bunting, Josh Wyskiewicz, and Pierce Martin each recorded a sack.
“We had a lot of question marks with the defense coming in,” said Drury. “We have a lot of guys who had to step up with new players in new positions. They played physical with energy and flew to the ball. That’s the stuff we’re talking about. I was impressed with that.”
The Knights’ defense held Manchester to 101 total yards (-15 yards rushing and 116 yards passing).
With a change in the Central Connecticut Conference after the major realignment of the divisions, the Knights will be hosting Hartford Public on Friday, a team that they don’t usually have on their schedule.
“It’s been a long time,” said Drury. “Coach Bellucci is going to have those guys geared up and ready to go. He has a very well-coached team. It’s going to be a good game.”
The last time Southington played Hartford Public was at Dillon Stadium in Hartford in 2008. The Knights won the game 35-12.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.