By KEVIN ROBERTS
Southington football found itself in a 21-7 hole after one quarter against East Hartford in an Oct. 26 battle of undefeated teams at East Hartford High School. The Hornets were ahead, and they had the confidence of a team that had defeated the Blue Knights a season ago.
On the other hand, Southington was also motivated by last year’s game, and it didn’t panic.
“We all wanted this game,” senior Matt Thompson said. “We knew this was a game where we had to prove ourselves.”
The Blue Knights tightened the clamps on the Hornets and outscored them 35-6 over the final three quarters on the way to a 42-27 comeback win. Southington improved to 7-0 while East Hartford dropped to 6-1.
Thompson and the Blue Knight defense played a huge role in the comeback. Thompson had three interceptions of Hornet standout quarterback Raquan Tompkins, and all of them came in the fourth quarter. For Thompson, it’s about providing his offense with the opportunity to strike.
“I love getting the ball back to our offense. I think we have the best offense in the state,” Thompson said. “I go against them every single day in practice. I love the way they compete, I love the way they can get down the field.”
With just over seven minutes remaining in the game and Southington ahead 28-21, Thompson came up with his first interception in his own end zone. He ran it out to the Southington 34-yard line, and one play later, running back Tanner LaRosa (22 carries, 210 yards, two touchdowns) did the rest. LaRosa ran free for a 66-yard touchdown and the Blue Knights went ahead 35-21 with 6:53 to go.
“It was a [momentum] swing, and we needed that swing,” coach Mike Drury said.
Tompkins used talented receivers Jaquan Allen and Jaydon Gardiner for a two-play, two-pass touchdown drive of 80 yards that brought the Hornets back to 35-27 with 6:34 to go. Southington gave the ball back to East Hartford with a chance to tie the game, but Thompson came up with his second interception with just over two and a half minutes remaining.
This time, the Blue Knight put the Hornets away. Tight end Jamie Lamson lined up on the line instead of split out like a receiver. Lamson snuck out into the secondary, and quarterback Jacob Drena (221 yards, three touchdowns, one interception) hit his wide open man with a pass. Lamson had nothing but green turf in front of him, and the 76-yard touchdown put Southington up 42-27 with 1:41 to go.
“It was a nice little something, it was a fun little play,” Drury said.
Fittingly, Thompson secured his third interception on the game’s final play. After falling behind 21-7, Southington yielded just six points in the final three quarters. John Miller led the defense with 12 tackles and 2.5 sacks. Angelo Plantamuro tallied 12 tackles and a half-sack while Billy Carr added 10 tackles and a sack. Kyle Messenger also produced 10 tackles to go along with a half-sack. Ryan Gavronski had seven tackles and a sack while Josh Vitti added an interception and a sack.
“The box guys did a really good job against Raquan,” Drury said.
“We knew that he could run the ball, we knew he could throw the ball, we knew he could do anything with the ball,” Thompson said, “so we really just focused on containing him and stopping his QB draws.”
Tompkins ran for 92 yards, but it took him 24 attempts to get there. The senior standout was 14-of-29 passing for 258 yards and two touchdowns, but he also had four interceptions thanks to the Blue Knight defense.
In the first quarter, Southington’s offense struggled and East Hartford built a 14-0 lead. Following a 66-yard run, LaRosa scored from a yard out, and the first of Evan Johanns’ six extra points without a miss made the score 14-7 with 3:46 remaining in the quarter. The Hornets stretched the lead back to 21-7 with 19 seconds left in the quarter.
Southington turned to the running game in the second quarter and it paid immediate dividends. The Blue Knights churned up yardage before Dillon Kohl scored from three yards out to make the score 21-14 with 10:17 to go until halftime. Southington evened the game just before halftime. After a 39-yard completion to Lamson, Drena hit Jacob Flynn for a 16-yard score with 37 seconds to play.
The Blue Knights went ahead for good on an 82-yard strike from Drena to Flynn with 23 seconds left in the third quarter.
Southington hits the road Friday for a 7 p.m. game at Enfield. The Eagles are 3-4, but have lost three straight games since starting the season 3-1. Still, Drury expects a challenge from Enfield.
“They play hard, they play tough, they’re a well-coached team,” Drury said. “They got a couple athletes over there that can run, so we just got to keep improving and getting better. That’s the key.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com