By KEVIN ROBERTS
It took a couple of last second comebacks, but Southington football finished with a perfect 10-0 record last fall to make a return to the Class LL state playoffs after a one-year absence. Still, the sting of unfinished business is sure to be a motivator for this year’s team, which returns a strong senior group.
The Blue Knights entered the postseason as the No. 4 seed and earned a quarterfinal home game. Southington’s return run in the playoffs lasted just one game, thanks to a 28-21 loss to No. 5 Fairfield Prep. This fall, the Knights will try to avenge that final loss.
“It’s a really tight-knit group, guys who’ve been playing together for a long time. Guys who grind it together, who are working hard together,” coach Mike Drury said after the team’s game scrimmage against Xavier on Sept. 6. “We’re excited, they put all the time in, all the work in, and they’re ready to have a great year. It’s just putting the pieces together, and getting out there and executing every day.”
Southington’s senior captains for 2019 are Billy Carr, Johnny Carreiro, Angelo Plantamuro, Carter Uhlman and Jacob Vecchio. Plantamuro and fellow senior Dillon Kohl will play major roles on both sides of the ball. Each showcased their ability to run the ball on offense in the scrimmage against Xavier. Not only can Plantamuro and Kohl run fast, they can also run a defender over.
“Having guys like that that can run, are strong, have great balance and physicality, that definitely helps out your run game,” Drury said.
Plantamuro (119 tackles, 4.5 sacks) and Carr (106, 5.5 sacks) were the leading tacklers in 2018 and team up with senior Max Casella and Kohl to form a dynamic group at the linebacker position. Kohl played some at outside linebacker during the scrimmage.
“That’s a veteran group right there. Three seniors right there on the interior for us,” Drury said. “Max Casella, Billy Carr and Angelo. Two guys who had 100-plus tackles for us last year with Billy and Angelo, guys who have experience.”
Casella has put in a strong offseason and is prepared to have a big season, according to Drury. Carreiro takes up position in the secondary as a strong safety, where he will bring a never-ceasing motor. Vecchio sets up on the offensive and defensive lines, where he has the most experience of anyone up front. Uhlman will be a big receiving target for whoever the Knights have in at quarterback.
Southington has had three people put in work at quarterback; senior Sam Bouchard, junior Brady Lafferty and junior Shane LaPorte. Each brings something different to the position, and each showed something different during the Xavier scrimmage. Bouchard threw the ball deep on several occasions, Lafferty took off and ran for a long first down one play, and LaPorte bought time to his left before firing a strike to his receiver for a first down on another play.
Southington has to replace All-CCC Division I-West quarterback Jacob Drena, who had a big year in his only season as the starting quarterback. Kohl and Plantamuro will have to make up for the yardage that All-CCC selection Tanner LaRosa (Trinity College) graduated with. Also gone from the 2018 team are All-CCC choices Will Downes (Marist College), Jacob Flynn (UConn), Sam McCarty (Suffield Academy), John Miller and Matt Thompson. Fellow 2018 seniors Jamie Lamson (University of Maine) and Kyle Messenger (University of New England) are also playing at the next level. Drena, LaRosa and Messenger were senior captains, along with Owen Bouchard.
Downes, Flynn and Lamson were key receivers for Drena in Southington’s spread offense. Drena was protected up front by McCarty and Bouchard, who also helped open holes for LaRosa in the run game. Miller just missed 100 tackles (98) and led the team in sacks with seven. Messenger was third on the team in tackles (100) and Thompson led the squad in interceptions (5).
The contributions of graduated kicker Evan Johanns can’t be forgotten. Johanns made 49 of his 50 extra-point attempts, connected on four of six field goals, and totaled 20 touchbacks. Johanns was also the punter.
There are a lot of holes to fill, but the good news for Southington is that it has good numbers, and this group is more than ready for a fight.
“I think this is a team that wants to compete at a high level. They want to play tough, hard-nosed football,” Drury said. “When you have that, it’s special, and I think that’s an important thing. They are guys who love going to practice…We’re competing against each other, guys are having fun, and they’re dialed in, and that’s an important piece.”
The Knights open their season on the road tonight against Conard at 7 p.m. at Bob McKee Stadium in West Hartford.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com