By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Apple Valley Classic got off to an odd start, in terms of high school football. Three-straight field goals by Evan Johanns on Southington’s first few drives put the Knights up by nine points by the end of the first quarter, with kicks coming from 20, 35, and 30 yards away.
“I thought I started our team off pretty well. It was definitely fun,” said Johanns. “The three kicks weren’t bad. I definitely could have hit them a little harder and farther, but I got them through. The third kick was definitely my best one.”
Coming into Thursday’s game, Johanns had made two of just three attempted field goals all season, along with 44 extra points.
“Of course, you want to punch those in for touchdowns,” said Southington coach Mike Drury. “But when you have a great kicker in Evan Johanns, you see how important those field goals are in those situations. Every point counts, and he’s got to know that he’s got to be ready at any time, but he stepped up.”
Coming into the Thanksgiving Day rivalry, both teams needed a win to keep their postseason hopes alive. With three losses coming into the game, Cheshire was a long shot, but Southington entered the game in eighth place in the Class LL rankings.
Both team battled like teams on the brink. Southington reached the red zone in its first three possessions. Cheshire’s defense bent, but didn’t break. Johanns’ kicks gave the Knights a 9-0 lead, and it set the pace for Southington’s 30-22 win.
“These ones are never easy,” said Southington coach Mike Drury. “A lot of preparation and work go into it, and there’s lot of emotions for this game. Whenever you get this one done, it’s always a great feeling.”
Cheshire didn’t go quietly. The Rams recovered a Knight fumble at Southington’s 14-yard line on their first possession of the second quarter and converted the turnover into a one-yard touchdown run by Cole Escoto, trimming the Ram deficit to 2 points.
The Knights responded on their next drive after Ryan Montalvo punched a one-yard run past the pylons.
A missed 33-yard field goal by Cheshire kept Southington’s lead at nine heading into halftime.
“It’s always a tough out against these guys on Thanksgiving, so it was going to be a battle” said Drury. “Our guys just made sure that we capitalized on any mistakes that they had and were able to move the ball down the field and score.”
Southington led throughout the contest, but the Rams stayed close. Cheshire opened the second half with a score on their first drive when quarterback John Raba scrambled for a 1-yard score.
Joe Koczera made the play of the game by recovering his teammate’s fumble on the ensuing kickoff, and the Knights pulled away with a pair of scores moments later. A 28-yard run by Montalvo and 25-yard interception return for a touchdown by Matt Thompson sealed the deal for Southington.
The Rams committed a total of 10 penalties worth 95 yards in the contest, which negated a couple of touchdowns and extensive plays downfield. But for the most part, Southington’s defense held Cheshire’s offense in check for most of the day.
“I think our defense did a great job,” said Drury. “There were penalties on both sides in many situations, but I thought our defense did a great job of shutting down the run for the most part. They made a couple of big plays, but we responded to them.”
Montalvo was named the Southington and Cheshire Chamber of Commerce Apple Valley Classic outstanding player of the game, pacing the backfield with 179 yards on 24 carries. Montalvo also finished with seven tackles on defense.
“I think I could have played better on defense. I had a couple good tackles, but I was a little disappointed with some of the misses I had,” said Montalvo. “The offensive line opened some huge holes for me. The holes looked like a parting sea. It was ridiculous. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
Johanns (3 field goals, 3 extra points) and Cheshire’s Michael Jeffery (11 catches, 171 yards) were the offensive players of the game.
“To get MVP is pretty impressive for me, quite honestly,” said Johanns. “I didn’t think I would ever get the chance to have this. It’s definitely incredible.”
Thompson (6 tackles, 2 batted passes) and Cheshire’s Nicholas Quint were defensive players of the game.
“I had a few sparks,” said Thompson. “I started off a little slow in the beginning and got beat on a post route. But as the game went on, I started getting into the rhythm of things and the patterns of the wide receivers down, playing very well.”
Barmore completed 17 of 32 passes for 203 yards. Will Downes caught four passes for 88 yards.
Ian Hall anchored Southington’s defense with 15 tackles, including 12 assists. Along with Thompson, Anthony Vecchio and Shaun Wagner also came away with interceptions. Sammy Thomson recovered a fumble that Billy Carr forced.
With the victory, Southington finished the season with an 8-2 record. Cheshire dropped to 6-4.
The Knights have won six in a row on Thanksgiving Day. Southington leads the Apple Valley Classic series, 13-9.
For this week’s box scores, click here: (southingtonobserver.com/2017/11/28/weekly-scoreboard-for-the-dec-1-edition). To contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.