By BRIAN JENNINGS
The Blue Knight football team’s 28-7 victory over Xavier at home in a friendly scrimmage before the start of the 2017 regular season was a good measure. Even more impressive was the defense’s ability to hold one of the top quarterbacks in the state, senior and Pennsylvania State University commit Will Levis, to just one touchdown.
That’s a reassuring sign for the upcoming season.
Xavier scored first after Levis hooked up with one of his receivers for a 20-yard touchdown, but never saw the end zone again. Southington coach Mike Drury said that Xavier’s lone score was a good testament to the defense’s ability to settle in to the game plan and execute.
“Our defense adjusted well to the kind of things that they were trying to do offensively,” said Drury. “Our defense played hard, tackled well, and made important plays when they had to.”
The offense also played well. After stalling on their first drive of the game, the Knights ripped off four consecutive drives for touchdowns.
“Our offense executed well, and guys made plays,” the coach said. “Our offensive line stood up and did a good job against some of their exotic looks. I was pleased with them.”
Southington finished last year with their third-straight undefeated regular season at 10-0 overall (5-0 home, 5-0 away), being crowned CCC Division I West champions for the third-straight year with a 4-0 record. The Knights qualified for the Class LL tournament for the fourth-straight year and advanced to the semifinals with a 35-22 win over No. 5 NFA at home in the quarterfinals.
However, Southington’s postseason run ended after the Knights fell, 38-7, to top-seeded Darien on the road in the semifinals for the second-straight year.
Since Darien moved up from Class L to Class LL in 2015, they haven’t lost a single game, claiming the past two Class LL titles as the new bully on the block. It is very likely that the Knights could see the Blue Wave again in the postseason very soon. Drury said that it’s not like the team thinks about them, but they know that they’re there.
“Honestly, they’re a great team,” said Drury. “If we both make the playoffs, we both have to get our jobs done. There could be a chance for us to face them again, and we always look forward to the opportunity to go against a very good opponent.”
If there’s anything that Drury and his staff wanted to change from that game, it’s being able to establish the running game early, stopping third-down conversions on defense, and winning the field position battle. Those elements of the game will be carried into this season.
The Knights will look to have a balanced attacked on offense this season, but if there’s one thing that hasn’t changed about the way the Knights operate their offense, it’s playing with tempo.
“That’s our big thing,” said Drury. “We have to play fast. The faster we play, the better we are as a team.”
Speed will be the strength of the defense as well.
“We have a very fast defense, so we have to play fast at all times,” the coach said. “We have some guys with a lot of experience in the back end. We have to play great pass defense and be able to find the ball against the run.”
The Knights lost 19 players to graduation after last season, including their bruising tailback and linebacker that set season and career school rushing records. Along with the team’s leading scorer and tackler, the Knights will also have to replace 12 players from the offense and 11 from the defense.
Key returners include the following seniors: linebacker Ian Hall, all-conference linebacker Joseph Koczera, running back and wide receiver Brandon Kohl, all-conference linebacker and running back Ryan Montalvo, and all-conference defensive back Samuel Thomson.
Koczera was second on the team with 89 total tackles, 52 assists, and four and a half sacks. Koczera also batted five passes and recovered four fumbles.
Hall was right behind Koczera with 79 total tackles, 50 assists, and three and a half sacks. Thomson led the team with eight batted passes and three interceptions, recording 52 total tackles and 30 assists.
Kohl was the second leading rusher on the team and fourth-highest scorer, finishing last season with 651 yards and eight touchdowns on 66 carries. Montalvo suffered a season-ending injury during the fifth game last year, but is back this season to split carries with Kohl and help lead the defense.
Senior William Barmore returns as the team’s starting quarterback. Under center last year, Barmore completed 142 of 242 passes for 1,815 yards and 24 touchdowns, throwing eight interceptions.
Senior Jack Herms was third on the team in receiving, finishing last season with 21 receptions for 253 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Junior Evan Johanns returns to the team as the starting kicker.
Other key returners of the offense include seniors Jonathan Clark (OL), Keegan Jarvis (OL), Jacob Monson (OL), Timothy O’Shea (WR), James Starr (OL), and Spencer Sterling (OL); and juniors Ethan Agli (OL), Owen Bouchard (OL), William Downes (WR), Jacob Drena (TE), Jamie Lamson (TE), and James Ringrose (WR).
Other key returners of the defense include seniors Cole Brock (DL), Sean Scanlon (DL), Jack Terray (DB), Anthony Vecchio (DB), and Shaun Wagner (DB); juniors Ryan Gavronski (DL), JT Martin (DB), Kyle Messenger (LB), and Matthew Thompson (DB); and sophomore Jacob Vecchio (DL).
Barmore, Monson, Montalvo, and Thomson were named as the team captains.
Football was not affected much by the new realignment of the CCC. Southington is still in Division I West along with Conard, Hall, New Britain, and Simsbury.
Glastonbury, Manchester, East Hartford, Enfield, and South Windsor are the non-divisional teams Southington will be playing this season, including a road game at Cheshire on Thanksgiving. The Knights kick off the regular season at Glastonbury on Friday at 6:30 p.m.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at email@example.com.