By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Conard Chieftains couldn’t generate a single yard against the stingy Southington defense on the ground, but they found ways to move the ball through the air and give the Blue Knight football team their tightest game of the season.
Only up by a pair of scores at halftime, the Knights managed to pull away and remain undefeated, improving to 4-0, after a strong second half showing with their second divisional win in a 49-13 rout at Conard on Thursday, Sept. 28.
“We knew they had a good offense,” said Southington coach Mike Drury. “They do great stuff schematically and kind of got some of the underneath stuff on us, but it’s hard. You have to pick your poison sometimes.”
The short week didn’t stop the Knights from remaining unbeaten either.
“It was a hot, tough week of practice,” the coach said. “It was like being in preseason football again, but I thought our guys responded great. They worked hard every day, weren’t complaining, knew the task at hand, and pushed through it.”
The Knights wasted no time and scored on their first drive after Tanner LaRosa ran one in from 22 yards out. The Chieftains began their first drive from their own eight-yard line, and after both teams combined for five penalties and 48 yards, the Chieftains mustered a 25-yard field goal. The Knights answered with a four-yard rushing touchdown by Ian Agnew.
Early in the second quarter, the Chieftains cut the deficit to eight points, 14-6, with another 25-yard field goal. The Knights quickly responded after Tim O’Shea made a fingertip grab over the middle of the field on a 40-yard strike from Will Barmore. The Chieftains wouldn’t go away though. A 20-yard passing touchdown got them to within eight again, 21-13, until a four-play drive turned into a 10-yard touchdown pass from Barmore to O’Shea with just under four minutes remaining in the first half and put the Chieftains away for good.
“His (O’Shea) ability to catch the football and his catch radius are great,” said Drury. “Close to 6-foot-5, he’s a tough matchup out there. When guys have to cover guys like that the entire night, it’s tough. He can get the ball out away from defenders where only he can get it.”
The Blue Knight defense shut down Conard’s air attack in the second half. Quarterback Jack Moore completed just seven passes for 72 yards in the second half after completing 17 passes for 215 yards in the first half.
“He’s (Moore) a good running quarterback who can extend the play on you,” the coach said. “We had our eyes peeking back there a few times, but Coach (Rob) Thomson and the defensive coaches just ran our stuff and got pressure on him, forcing the ball out of his hands quicker than he’d like.”
Touchdowns from linebacker Joe Koczera (2-yard run), LaRosa (1-yard run), and O’Shea (2-yard pass from Barmore) in the second half capped off the victory for Southington. Koczera’s score was his first rushing touchdown of his high school career.
Southington’s defense not only halted Conard’s passing game in the second half, but they also held the Chieftains to minus-12 yards rushing. Koczera (1 forced fumble) and Sammy Thomson anchored the defense with 10 tackles each. Thomson also picked off his fourth pass of the season. Ryan Montalvo and Ian Hall (6 assists) contributed with seven tackles each. Sean Scanlon (1.5 sacks) and Mario Ferreri each recovered a fumble.
LaRosa paced the backfield with 97 yards on 11 carries. Barmore completed 20 of 28 passes for 228 yards. O’Shea led all receivers with 116 yards on 11 catches.
Offensive linemen JJ Clark and Jake Monson missed the game, due to injuries sustained in last week’s game. However, Keegan Jarvis, Sam McCarty, Jimmy Starr, Spencer Sterling, and Jacob Vecchio started on the line and allotted Barmore an excessive amount of time to throw in the pocket for most of the night.
The Knights will be back on the turf this week when they remain out on the road in West Hartford for another divisional showdown at Hall (1-3) on Friday, Oct. 6.
“We saw a little bit of them on film so far, but I know that they always do a great job in all phases of the game,” said Drury. “They have a great scheme over there, but we just have to get ready and prepare like we do every week.”
Game time is 7 p.m. Southington is currently one of seven undefeated teams in Class LL.
For this week’s box scores, click here: (southingtonobserver.com/2017/10/04/weekly-scoreboard-for-the-oct-6-edition). To contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.