By BRIAN JENNINGS
It was the same teams, the same location. It was practically the same result.
A year after the Blue Knight football team suffered a 49-7 loss to Darien in the semifinals of the Class LL tournament, both teams squared off in the semifinals of this year’s tournament at Boyle Field in Stamford for a rematch.
The Blue Wave finished the 2016 regular season undefeated, just like the Knights, but entered the postseason this time as the top seed. Southington entered as the No. 4 seed. However, not much else had changed.
The Knights advanced to the semifinals for the fourth-straight year, but were washed away by the Wave for the second-straight year. Southington was held to just seven points again, falling to Darien, 38-7.
“They played well up front on us,” said Southington coach Mike Drury. “They’re very tough and better up front this year than they were last year. They had the field-position battle in the first half on us. We couldn’t flip the field. We tried to get stuff going, but then kind of shot ourselves in the foot a little bit.”
The first quarter opened with a combination of a few punts by both teams, but Finlay Collins broke the defensive stronghold by scoring a one-yard touchdown midway through the first quarter. Following a Southington fumble, Collins struck again moments later by capitalizing on the turnover with another rushing score from one yard out, putting the Wave up, 14-0.
Riley Stewart extended Darien’s lead to 17 with a 34-yard field goal midway through the second quarter. On Southington’s next possession, Vance Upham scampered downfield for 58 yards and set up the team’s lone score of the game.
Will Barmore hit Richie Rivera on a 12-yard touchdown pass with just under four minutes to go before halftime, cutting the deficit to 10, 17-7.
“That was big, but they answered with a score right there,” said Drury. “It changes your play calling a little bit. You have to throw the ball a little bit more. You can’t play a team like this from behind, and unfortunately, that’s what we had to do.”
With 59 seconds remaining in the first half, Nicholas Green found the end zone on a two-yard run. Darien went into halftime with a 24-7 advantage.
Brian Peters capped off the victory by hooking up with Timothy Herget on a 37-yard touchdown and Stewart on a 12-yard score in the third quarter.
Vance Upham paced the offense with 134 yards on 19 carries. Will Barmore completed 17 of 34 passes for 156 yards and a pair of interceptions. Anthony Plantamuro caught six passes for 67 yards.
Brandon Kohl anchored the defense with eight tackles (2 assists). Upham (7 tackles, 2 assists), Ian Hall (6 tackles, 3 assists), and Sammy Thomson (3 tackles, 1 interception) contributed as well.
Barmore tired connecting with his receivers on the deep ball numerous times, which might have changed the complexion of the game, but could only complete a long of 25 yards.
“You have to make those big plays in these games,” the coach said. “Unfortunately, it was just out of our grasp. We had some guys open downfield, but our guys still battled. We just could execute when we needed to.”
Barmore was also pressured by Darien’s defense in the pocket for most of the night, sacked seven times.
At six-foot-six-inches and 295 pounds, Darien’s Andrew Stueber—who is committed to playing football for the University of Michigan next fall—made a big impact on the game, playing as an offensive and defensive lineman.
“He’s a great player up front,” said Drury. “Obviously, he did a good job up front, but our guys battled up front the best they could. They gave everything they had. Darien just had a little bit more today.”
Southington has yet to get by Darien ever since they joined Class LL, but the Knights could very well play the Wave again in next year’s state tournament. However, there are a lot of things Drury said he would do differently if that were to happen.
“We have to win the field-position battle early on,” the coach said. “You can’t give them short fields or turn the ball over. We just have to be able to sustain drives and score early on. It’s hard to play from behind, especially against a prolific passing attempt. But hopefully, we’re going to work as hard as we can to get back to it.”
The loss ended Southington’s fall campaign. The Knights fell to 11-1 overall. Darien will play No. 7 Ridgefield (10-2) for the Class LL title.
NOV. 29—The Knights advanced to the semifinals of the Class LL tournament for the fourth-straight year with a 35-22 win over No. 5 Norwich Free Academy at home on Tuesday.
Southington led NFA, 28-14 at halftime, but the Wildcats held the Knights scoreless in the third quarter and crept to within six points, 28-22, by the fourth quarter. However, Southington pulled away after Upham ran in a six-yard touchdown on fourth-and-one with 4:20 remaining in the contest.
Upham finished the game with 211 yards and a pair of scores on 38 carries and anchored the defense with 12 tackles (4 assists), one and a half sacks, and a batted down pass.
Thomson (3 assists, 2 batted down passes) and Robert Bunting (3 assists, 2 sacks) contributed with seven tackles apiece, and Sean Scanlon (4 tackles) recovered a fumble, forced by Kohl (4 tackles).
Barmore completed 11 of 22 passes for 191 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. Plantamuro caught four passes for 50 yards and a pair of scores. Matt Gunderson’s only catch of the game went for 61 yards and a touchdown.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at bjennings@ southingtonobserver.com.