By KEVIN ROBERTS
The two-minute drill is something high school football teams look to perfect in the waning minutes of practice, and Southington is no exception. On Friday, Oct. 5, the Blue Knights put their two-minute drill into overdrive to salvage their undefeated status in a showdown of unbeaten teams at Veterans Stadium in New Britain.
Southington had to come back—not once—but twice to get the win.
The Knights had rallied from an 18-7 deficit after three quarters to take a 21-18 lead in the fourth quarter, but the Golden Hurricanes responded with a 15-yard touchdown run from Tahje Yopp to regain a 24-21 lead with 1:34 remaining.
Tyree Pinnock missed the extra point, but made up for it when he rocketed the ensuing kickoff into the end zone for a touchback.
Backed up to their own 20-yard line, Southington took just 58 seconds to regain the lead. According to Blue Knight quarterback and senior co-captain Jacob Drena, it was business as usual for the Knights.
“It was probably the most confident I felt throughout that whole game,” Drena said. “We practice that stuff every week in practice, and it was our game to win. We were down, and it was our game to win. I just made sure I was doing what coach told me to do, run the plays, do my job and find the open guy.”
Drena completed passes to Jamie Lamson (10 yards), Will Downes (12 yards), and Lamson (28 yards) to push the ball to the New Britain 30. Drena threw a deep ball to Downes on a corner route, and the 26-yard reception put the ball at the Hurricane four-yard line.
To finish the drive off, Drena handed the ball to Tanner LaRosa, who burst through the line for an easy four-yard touchdown. There were 36 seconds left on the clock. Eighty yards, 58 seconds, no problem.
“The big guys down in the trenches are the ones who really set everything up,” Drena said. “You can’t win without a line. The big guys blocked, I got the ball to [the receivers], and they made the magic happen.”
As for the touchdown run, it came quickly and caught New Britain off-guard.
“None of us are tired out there, we work too hard in practice to be tired. Our practices are probably more tiring than the games,” Drena said. “They weren’t even set up yet, I called it quick, and I knew [LaRosa] was going to get in.”
Southington’s defense made sure to keep New Britain in the field of play on the game’s final drive so the clock would run out. When the final play ended, the Blue Knights burst onto the field in celebration.
“It definitely shows that we got heart, and it shows that we don’t stop fighting until the very end,” Downes said.
It was Downes who started Southington’s comeback with an interception late in the third quarter. New Britain had moved the ball on the ground with relative ease in the first half, but that changed in the second half.
“In the first half, things weren’t going exactly the way we wanted, obviously,” coach Mike Drury said. “We made some great adjustments, the defensive coaches did a great job making adjustments and we made big plays when we needed to.”
One player who was there all game for the Blue Knight defense was senior end John Miller. Miller finished the game with an astounding 23 tackles, including 16 assists to along with a key sack. Miller was a machine for Southington and a nightmare for New Britain.
“We know there’s plays to be made. We saw what they were doing, and we said here’s how we got to exploit it,” Drury said.
Billy Carr had 13 total tackles and Kyle Messenger added 10 total tackles.
New Britain felt like it was their year, and preview stories for the game said as much. When the captains came out for the coin toss, the Hurricanes didn’t shake hands with the Blue Knights.
“We got to stay short-sighted,” Drury said about the preview stories and coin toss diss. “There’s a lot of that stuff, it’s fun to read those things, and it obviously gives us some fuel. It gives the players some fire, but we just got to be consistent in our approach to preparing for each game.”
New Britain jumped ahead 6-0 on a dominating drive in the first quarter where standout back Shawn Robinson shredded the Southington run defense. The Blue Knights went ahead 7-6 on a LaRosa one-yard touchdown run, but Robinson scored from 10 yards out with 6:56 left until halftime for a 12-7 New Britain lead.
The Hurricanes went ahead 18-7 on an 11-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 15 seconds to play in the half.
New Britain turned the ball over on downs deep in Southington territory in the third quarter, but Southington had to punt on its next possession. There was only 1:42 left in the third quarter at that point, and the Hurricanes still led 18-7. Then Downes came up with his interception.
Drena (16-of-34, 232 yards, 2 TD) hit Lamson (5 catches, 73 yards) for a 16-yard touchdown, and the Evan Johanns extra point put Southington within 18-14 at the 11:33 mark of the fourth quarter. The Blue Knights went ahead 21-18 at the 4:41 mark on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Drena to Jacob Flynn and the Johanns extra point. New Britain took the lead back, but Southington had the final answer.
Southington is 5-0 going into the bye week and won’t play again until Oct. 19, when it hosts Conard (2-3) at 7 p.m. at Fontana Field. The Blue Knights have had a bye week since 2014, when other teams played 11 games and they scheduled only 10, Drury said.
“We’ve kind of fine-tuned how we handle this week,” Drury said. “We’re definitely not going to have marathon practices, but we’re going to be quick, get our stuff right, get our bodies right. We’re going to be strength training and conditioning and get ourselves ready, but you don’t have the physical pounding because you’re not in pads.”
Southington will also assess where it is in all facets of the game and decide what can be improved upon.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com