The Knights went 10-0 for the second-straight year, including a 61-41 victory at Glastonbury and a 36-29 nail biter at Cheshire on Thanksgiving to close out the regular season, but No. 3 Southington’s bid for a third straight state title came to an end against No. 2 Darien in the Class LL semifinals.
Although the Knights fell short of reaching the championship game, Southington head coach Mike Drury said that getting caught against Darien in the semifinals only kept the team hungry for this offseason.
“I think it’s just about refocusing a little bit,” said Drury. “We just need to look directly at each other and hold each other accountable. These guys really need to look at what they really want with their season. They want to avenge that loss and show that they’re ready to bounce back and have another great year.”
The postseason loss ended a school record winning streak at 31 games that ran from 2013 to 2015. The Knights also came up a win shy of tying the all-time unbeaten streak (32-0-1), which was set from 1962 to 1966.
Drury called it a testament to the program’s process in the way they prepare for every season.
“You work for every win because wins don’t come easy,” the coach said. “It’s a great record to have, and you want to celebrate those things. Records are there to be broken.”
Now, it’s back to the drawing board. Drury said that there wasn’t any specific area of focus during the off-season. He wants the whole package to come together and fire on all cylinders.
“I think it’s going to be really important for us to be extremely sound and strong offensively, defensively, and on special teams this year,” said Drury. “Each game, we have to bring the energy and intensity, and it starts with practicing that way first.”
The Knights graduated 27 seniors from last year’s team, including veteran quarterback Jasen Rose. Senior co-captains Albert Palumbo (guard), Anthony Plantamuro (receiver), Vance Upham (running back), and John Vecchio (safety) will lead the returning veterans.
“Our seniors and captains have to set the tone,” said the coach. “The leaders within the junior and sophomore classes have to take the approach of working and wanting to get better. Our goal is to continue to improve each and every day, as well as each and every week.”
Palumbo will anchor the offensive line at guard, along with returning seniors Dante D’Agostino, David Pastor, Tyler Moquin, Julian Robles, and Michael Steminsky; and juniors Jonathan Clark, Jacob Monson, and James Starr.
The offense will include a number of familiar faces. Plantamuro will lead a talented receiving corps, including seniors Kenneth Dowler, Matthew Gundersen, and Jeremy Jehnings; and juniors Jack Herms, Brandon Kohl, and Timothy O’Shea. Tight ends include seniors Dominic Coppola and Richard Rivera.
Upham will pace an experienced ground attack, along with junior Ryan Montalvo. Kohl will also be in the mix at halfback.
The biggest change will be at quarterback where junior William Barmore and sophomore Jacob Drena will contend for the starting quarterback position.
As far as the style of offense the Knights plan to run this season, not much has changed. High tempo is the name and moving the ball downfield at an extremely quick pace is the game.
“We’ll have some new wrinkles this year, in terms of some concepts, but we’re a spread-based offense with the potential for heavy run or pass,” said Drury. “It really depends on the game at times, but our main goal every year is to operate as fast and efficiently as we possibly can.”
Last year, defense was the biggest question mark with just one returning starter. That should pay dividends this year with a strong core of experienced players returning on defense.
Senior lineman Robert Bunting, Matthew Meade, Paul Schweiger, and Brendan Shea; and juniors Sean Scanlon, Zack Smith, and Gavin Stakey will be the first line of defense.
Upham will power the blitz, along with senior Tyler Shoneck; and juniors Montalvo, Ian Hall, and Joseph Koczera. Montalvo led the defense in total primary tackles (52) and interceptions (3) last year, finishing second in total tackles (109) and assists (57) with eight batted passes.
Defensive backs include seniors Gundersen, Daniel Borkowski, Tyson Harris, and Brandon Slade; and juniors Samuel Thomson and Anthony Vecchio. Gundersen also picked off three passes last year, while knocking down 10. Harris transferred to Southington as a talented track and field athlete from New Britain.
The Knights will continue to keep opponents off-balance with a defense that will shift from a 3-3 to a 4-2 or 4-3 package, depending on the opponent.
“Defensive coaches have been working hard this offseason to really hone their scheme and look at our personnel,” the coach said. “We have a veteran group that has really done a great job of playing a fast, physical, and rule-based defense. That’s the mentality that they want to have.”
Special teams will feature new faces with junior Nick Doddona and freshman Evan Johanns vying for the kicking position. Long snappers include Koczera and junior Shaun Wagner.
Other returning juniors that will look to make an impact on the varsity roster include Cole Brock, Mario Ferreri, Keegan Jarvis, Alexander Kuhr, Tyler Kuzinsky, Joe Lee, Angelo Pederson, James Ringrose, and Jack Terray.
The Knights will kick off the season against the new co-op team of Enfield and Fermi on the road on Sept. 9. Hartford Public is the only team from last year that is not on the schedule.