By KEVIN ROBERTS
The emotion on the faces of the Southington football players said it all.
All of the blood, sweat and tears that went into the season delivered an undefeated record and a berth in the Class LL state playoffs, but the Blue Knights couldn’t get any further. Fourth-seeded Southington lost 28-21 to fifth-seeded Fairfield Prep on Tuesday night in front of a great crowd at Fontana Field.
“They left it all out there, they gave everything,” coach Mike Drury said. “Just missed a couple things. It’s going to sting for a while for them, because they care about it and they put so much into this. They’ll bounce back, and they’ll remember the time that they had was a great time and something to be proud of.”
The Knights came out fast. Southington looked to be going in for the game’s opening touchdown with 7:21 left in the first quarter, but Tanner LaRosa fumbled inside the five-yard line. Prep’s Nicholas Morris recovered the ball at the 3-yard line.
The Blue Knights forced the Jesuits to punt from inside their own 10, and Southington wouldn’t be denied a second time. On third and goal from the 14, quarterback Jacob Drena showed good patience in the pocket, then found Carter Uhlman in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. Evan Johanns extra point put the Blue Knights up 7-0 with 2:41 left in the first quarter.
The Jesuits battled back, but a missed extra point kept the Knights in the lead. JP Iaropoli got Prep to the two-yard line on a 37-yard hook-up with Max McGillicuddy. The Knights drove them back to the 9, but a pass interference brought the ball to the 4, and Thomas Walton ran it in a four-yard score.
Once again, Southington kept control.
Angelo Plantamuro looked to be down on the ensuing kickoff. He was a in a crowd of white Fairfield Prep jerseys around the Southington 40. Plantamuro leaned forward, but wouldn’t go down. He worked his way free and he was gone. Plantamuro only slowed up to allow Jamie Lamson to screen off one last tackler 15 yards from the end zone. Plantamuro’s 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a Johanns extra point put the Blue Knights up 14-6 at the break.
The second half was another story. The Jesuits kept the Blue Knight defense on the field for a majority of the time in the final two quarters. Fairfield Prep tied the game at 14 on Iaropoli’s quarterback sneak and Douglas Harrison III’s two-point conversion with 2:45 left in the third quarter.
“They were out there a little bit,” Drury said of the defense. “We had some inopportune penalties in certain situations, which I wasn’t happy with at all, and a couple turnovers. There you go. Tight games, that’s what happens. But the kids battled, played hard, I’m proud of them.”
Still, the offense had opportunities. Southington regained the lead, 21-14, at the end of the third quarter on a six-yard pass from Drena to Uhlman, but the Jesuits answered, moving the ball downfield with authority. Harrison ran for 29 yards to the Southington 17, then finished the Prep drive with a 10-yard touchdown run.
Murray McCarthy’s extra point tied the game at 21 with 9:30 to play in the fourth quarter.
Southington went three and out on the next possession. Finn Duran returned Johanns’ line-drive punt 23 yards to the Blue Knight 32-yard line. After a two-yard run and two-yard catch, Iaropoli found Samuel Roberto on a crossing pattern. Some missed tackles and a final push from Prep teammates got Roberto into the end zone on the 28-yard play. McCarthy’s extra point put the Jesuits up 28-21 with 7:28 left in the game.
Drena was intercepted on the next possession, but Southington forced a punt. Billy Carr got a piece of the punt, and Angelo Plantamuro caught the ball, giving the Blue Knights possession at the Jesuit 43. Southington drove all the way to the Prep 2, but Tanner LaRosa was stuffed on 4th and inches.
Drena was in shotgun and handed off to LaRosa, who was immediately met in the backfield. LaRosa tried to reverse field and get away, but wound up losing eight yards.
“You always think about that stuff. You can go back and forth on those things a thousand times, which I will, obviously,” Drury said of the playcall.
The Jesuits ran out the clock and celebrated their comeback victory. Fairfield Prep (10-1) will advance to the semifinals, while the Blue Knights finished at 10-1.
Next week, we’ll wrap up Southington’s successful fall season.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com.