Football: Business as usual; Playoffs begin on Thanksgiving

The last time Cheshire and Southington met on Thanksgiving Day with playoff implications for both teams was in 2014. In that contest, Blue Knight quarterback Justin Rose, above, threw for 418 yards and five touchdowns to get the win.

SPENCER DREHER

STAFF WRITER

With both programs’ dominance in the 1990s and 2000s, The Apple Valley Classic between Southington and Cheshire is considered one of the most exciting Thanksgiving rivalries in the state.  This year, however, there is more on the line than just a trophy.

Cheshire (7-1) and Southington (8-1) are ranked third and fourth, respectively, in the Class LL, so both teams will be fighting for state playoff seeding with a home game in the balance. It’s the 24th edition of the Thanksgiving rivalry, but for fans this is nothing new. The Apple Valley Classic often has playoff implications.

Last time that the Apple Valley Classic had implications for both teams (2014), the Blue Knights were the ones hoisting the trophy. Which team will win this year?

This fall marks the first time since 2014 that playoff implications are on the line for both teams on Thanksgiving Day. Southington won the last one, 44-7, which capped an undefeated regular season and launched a Class LL championship run. On the other side of the ball, it eliminated Cheshire from Class LL contention.

According to players, the playoffs were a huge motivator in 2014.

“Cheshire was talking trash, and we were talking trash [before the game],” former Blue Knight quarterback Justin Rose told The Observer in 2014. Rose completed five touchdown passes in that game for 418 yards. “Everyone knew that they were coming for our perfect season. They said it in their newspapers, but that was kind of our motivation. Either they were going to ruin our perfect season, or we were going to end their careers. That’s what we did.”

Both teams have entered the Apple Valley Classic needing a win, and both teams have had success. In 2008, Cheshire needed a victory on Thanksgiving and carried the momentum all the way to a state championship game. In 2010, Cheshire, who was already out of playoff contention with a 4-5 record, handed Southington its second loss of the season, 49-39, to eliminate them from the postseason.

“I don’t care if we came into this game 2-7, our kids are going to play,” former Cheshire coach, Mark Ecke, told the Observer in 2010. “It’s been the other way when we’ve had a better record and Southington has come in. It doesn’t matter. When it comes down to it at the end of the day, there are guys that are playing their last game in high school football.  They’re going to play their best game, and I think both sides did that.”

After their win over New Britain last week, Southington head coach Mike Drury reaffirmed that this would be a competitive game no matter what.

“It is going to be a great battle,” Drury said.  “They like to do what they do, and we like to do what we do.  It is always a great, competitive game no matter what the records are.  Both of us have been in opposite situations of the spectrum.  We have also been in situations similar to this year.  It is fun to play in a game like that.”

Southington will look to win their eighth straight over Cheshire.  For the most part, there isn’t too much from the regular season that separates these two teams.

Cheshire has averaged 37.4 points per game on the season, while Southington has averaged 36.3.  Southington averages 49 more yards of offense per game, and they average almost 75 more passing yards per game.

Southington not only has a slight advantage in the passing game, but on the defensive side as well.  Southington has allowed just 10.2 points per game on the season, including two straight shutouts, while Cheshire averages 16.3.

Southington also has 37 sacks on the season, compared to Cheshire’s eight.  Cheshire leads in takeaways on the season, however, 23-15, including 16 interceptions.  That could present some problems to Southington’s Brady Lafferty and the passing game.

Cheshire’s one loss this season came to Hall, while Southington’s came to Darien, who was No. 1 in Class LL entering this week.  Southington defeated Hall earlier this season.

Cheshire also has yet to face a top 10 Class LL opponent this season, but Cheshire will be Southington’s third opponent this fall, along with top-ranked Darien and Simsbury, that are in the top 8.

Southington had the benefit of a bye week this week, while Cheshire plays their ninth game tonight against Harding (3-5).  Drury said the bye week will definitely help in terms on preparation and getting some players at full health.

“It will be important to get some guys health for sure,” Drury said.  “We can get a couple guys back that we have been missing the last few games, like Dillon Kohl, our running back, and Anthony Henderson, one of our defensive linemen.  Those are two key guys that we are looking forward to having back.  It will also give us time to work on our technique.”

Tickets for the game can be bought this Monday or Tuesday at Southington High School.  They are $8 for adults and $5 for students and senior citizens.  Adult ticket prices will be $10 on game day.  Game time is 10 a.m. at Cheshire High School.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Spencer Dreher, email him at SDreher@SouthingtonObserver.com.

For a preview of the game, click here: Apple Valley Classic Preview

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