The Apple Valley Classic came all the way down to the final play of double overtime. Southington was clinging to a 21-20 lead after a Cheshire touchdown, and Southington’s defense stuffed a quarterback sneak by Jason Shumilla to seal the Thanksgiving win.
It was fitting that the defense decided the contest because the defenses seemed to control the game on both sides of the ball.
“That last play could have went either way,” head coach Mike Drury said in the postgame press conference. “We decided to make a personnel change on that play and got some beef in there. Our guys stepped up and just made a great play there at the end.”
The Rams were originally going to kick the extra point to send the game to a third overtime, but the Blue Knights committed an offside penalty on the try. At that point, Cheshire head coach, Don Drust, decided to take the gamble in a play that would decide the winner. Southington’s front seven immediately bottled up Shumilla as soon as he took the snap.
Despite the final score, it was just 7-7 at the end of regulation. Both teams scored in the second quarter, but the defenses did the rest. Dillon Kohl, who has battled a hand injury this season, scored his first touchdown since Oct. 11, where had a three-touchdown effort against Manchester. Cheshire would respond on the very next drive, which was sparked by a 56-yard run by Jake McAlinden. Shumilla would sneak it in himself a few plays later to tie the game, 7-7.
Both teams had a chance to score in the second half. Cheshire drove into Southington territory to start the third quarter but they were forced to try a 39-yard field goal, which went wide left.
Southington quarterback, Brady Lafferty, led his offense down to the eight-yard line at the end of the third quarter, but a botched snap was recovered by Cheshire’s Colby Griffin to keep the score at 7-7.
The Knights also drove down the field in their last drive of regulation, hoping to get close enough for a field goal try. Time was too much of a factor, however, and the Knights chose to go into overtime.
Southington deferred possession to Cheshire after winning the overtime coin toss. Each team received a chance to score in four plays from the opponents’ 10-yard line.
McAlinden scored on the very first play of overtime to make it 14-7. On the ensuing possession, Southington was already backed up on their first play because of a false start penalty. But the Knights responded and capped off the drive with Kohl’s second touchdown of the day.
The Knights scored to start the second overtime on a touchdown pass from Lafferty to Shane LaPorte, who returned from injury after a three-game absence.
Southington was able to back up Cheshire to the 16-yard line but Shumilla found a wide open Nick DiDomizio to make it 21-20, and you know the rest.
“This is how we fight,” Drury said. “There is some stuff we have to clean up from this game, but I am very proud of our guys and how they handled this game. The way they acted and the way they responded, you couldn’t ask for much more. You got to tip your hats to Cheshire. They played their tails off but so did we.”
On offense, Lafferty completed 24 of 41 passes for 249 yards and a touchdown. Kohl carried the ball 28 times in his return, gaining 148 yards to go with his two scores.
Five receivers had at least three catches for the Knights. Josh Vitti led the way with 9 catches for 112 yards. He has 25 catches in his last three games.
LaPorte caught four passes, including the touchdown, while Jake Delmonte had three catches for 55 yards.
On defense, Billy Carr led the way with 13 tackles, including two for a loss. Carr also made a stop when Cheshire went for it on fourth down and short in the third quarter.
Angelo Plantamuro had 12 tackles, including 1.5 for a loss and a sack. Max Casella had eight tackles and a forced fumble, which Johnny Carreiro recovered.
It was Southington’s eighth straight win in the Thanksgiving rivalry. This was the first game in the series to be decided in overtime, and it was the first time since 2008 that the game was decided by less than a touchdown.
With the win and a Darien loss to New Canaan, Southington leapt from No. 4 to No. 2 seed in the Class LL rankings, while Cheshire dropped from third to fifth.
The Knights were scheduled to host No. 7 Ridgefield on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. The game was moved up from Tuesday due to Monday’s snow storm. Cheshire was scheduled to play at Simsbury on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.
Apple Valley Classic Awards
Offensive Awards—Dillon Kohl of Southington had 28 carries for 148 yards and two touchdowns. Jake McAlinden of Cheshire had 18 carries for 113 yards and a touchdown. Both were named as the offensive MVPs.
Defensive Awards—Johnny Carriero of Southington had five tackles, as well as a fumble recovery and a pass defended. Colby Griffin of Cheshire, second on the team in tackles, recovered a fumble in the loss. Both were named as the defensive MVPs.
MVP—Southington quarterback, Brady Lafferty, completed 24 of 41 passes for 249 yards and a touchdown. He was named the game’s overall MVP.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Spencer Dreher, email him at SDreher@SouthingtonObserver.com.