By BRIAN JENNINGS
It wasn’t easy, but the Blue Knights stayed undefeated and clinched a conference title for the fourth consecutive season. Maybe it was the bye week. Maybe it was a determined New Britain team, but Southington battled for every point in their closest-contested first half of the season.
On Friday, Oct. 20, Ryan Montalvo and Joe Koczera combined for six scores to lead Southington to a 42-20 home win over New Britain, but the score was 28-20 at the half.
“New Britain came out, and they played very tough football,” said Southington coach Mike Drury. “We expected that. We knew what type of team they had. They have some really tough guys up front and really good athletes all over the field.”
In his first game in the backfield this season, Montalvo put the Knights on the board first with a rushing touchdown from five yards out following punts by both teams on their opening drives. Montalvo suffered an injury to his arm in a scrimmage against Xavier before the start of the regular season, and the cast he wore didn’t allow him to carry to the ball properly.
“Just getting him the ability to get back there and get comfortable again is great,” the coach said. “He got that feeling of a game-style atmosphere, seeing the holes and exploding.”
After a punt by the Golden Hurricanes on their next possession, an interception thrown by Will Barmore led to a 12-play, 73-yard drive the opposite way. The turnover resulted in a two-yard run past the pylons by New Britain quarterback Jahfari Newman, bringing the Hurricanes to within a point, 7-6, after a missed extra point.
The Knights responded with a touchdown on their very next possession following a rumble of 48 yards down the sideline by Montalvo as time expired in the first quarter. The Hurricanes wouldn’t go away though, knotting the score at 14-14 on their next possession. Tahje Yopp found the end zone on a one-yard run for a touchdown and completed a pass to Kaiyon Gunn for the two-point conversion.
On Southington’s next possession, a 67-yard completion from Barmore to Jamie Lamson set up a three-yard touchdown pass from Barmore to Koczera. The Knights recovered an onside kick at New Britain’s 24-yard line on the ensuing kickoff, which turned into another three-yard touchdown pass from Barmore to Koczera to put the Knights up by a pair of scores.
“Joe’s in a part of our package of our offense,” said Drury. “We just know that he’s going to get tough yardage, run downhill, and block great when he needs to. He did a great job in that role tonight.”
The Hurricanes cut the deficit to eight, 28-20, on their next possession with just over a minute remaining in the half on the heels of a nine-yard dash by Newman and failed two-point conversion on a pass attempt.
“Offensively, they were hitting some creases on us,” the coach said. “They made some plays and got a couple of their drives extended, which we shouldn’t have happen. But, that’s going to happen in a game.”
However, a close first half wouldn’t stop Southington from holding New Britain scoreless in the second half. A pair of one-yard rushing touchdowns by Koczera and Montalvo in the second half put the Hurricane away for good.
On their first possession in the third quarter, the Hurricanes rushed the punting unit onto the field for a 4th-and-1 from their own 39-yard line, whereas, Drury said he thought the Hurricanes would go for the first down.
“We were ready for that,” said Drury. “We kept the defense on the field for a fake or a sneak, and they didn’t.”
The punt by the Hurricanes came as a surprise to the Knights, given the fact that field position was at a premium in the first two possessions of the game. Anthony Vecchio booted Southington’s first punt of the game went 49 yards, while New Britain’s first punt only traveled 15 yards, setting the Knights up for their first score on a short field from New Britain’s 47-yard line.
“It’s big,” the coach said. “Field position in any game is huge. We tell our punters that they’re the most important unit on the field, special teams-wise. We have to make sure that we’re able to flip the field for the defense and make teams drive long fields.”
Montalvo paced the backfield with 74 yards on 15 carries. Barmore completed 17 of 31 passes for 238 yards, throwing three interceptions. Lamson led all receivers with three catches for 91 yards.
Koczera anchored the defense with seven tackles, including 5 assists. Sammy Thomson (2 passes batted down, 1 fumble recovery) and Ian Hall contributed with six tackles apiece. Sean Scanlon also recovered a fumble.
The Knights will be back on the turf this week when they host East Hartford (5-1) on Friday, Oct. 27 for Breast Cancer Awareness Night. East Hartford is currently one of three teams with one loss in Class LL.
“They have some great talent,” said Drury. “They have some guys up front, a great running back, and a linebacker that’s going to UConn. We know him and have been playing against him for three years now.”
Game time is 7 p.m. Southington is currently 6-0 and one of six undefeated teams in Class LL.
For this week’s box scores, click here: (southingtonobserver.com/2017/10/24/weekly-scoreboard-for-the-oct-27-edition). To contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.