By KEVIN ROBERTS
The Southington football offense generated seven touchdowns in the 54-21 season-opening win at Conard on Sept. 13. The Sept. 20 High School Football Alliance game at old nemesis Darien of the FCIAC proved to be a much different story.
Dropped passes, overthrown balls, turnovers and penalties all combined to deny the Blue Knights any real offensive momentum against the Blue Wave. When Southington finally scored on offense against Darien, there was only 2:21 left in the game, and the Wave had a comfortable, two-score lead.
As if to add insult to injury, a Southington throw in the waning moments of the game was intercepted and returned 21 yards for a Darien touchdown by Connor O’Malley. The pick-six provided the final points in a 24-8 Wave victory over the Knights. O’Malley had two interceptions in the game. Southington dropped to 1-1 while Darien improved to 2-0.
“Unfortunately, offensively we really didn’t get a rhythm, couldn’t get things going,” coach Mike Drury said. “Too many mistakes, balls on the ground, dropped balls, turnovers. You can’t have that against a team like this.”
The Knights used Brady Lafferty and Shane LaPorte at quarterback, but consistent passing was hard to find. It was also difficult to get the run game going. Lafferty was 12-for-37 for 208 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions. LaPorte went 3-for-5 for 12 yards.
Dillon Kohl ran 14 times for 37 yards, and the Knights wound up with just 18 yards rushing on 26 attempts. Carter Uhlman ended up with eight catches for 107 yards, but also had numerous drops. That was something that plagued the Southington receiving corps all night.
“We’ve got to do a better job offensively,” said Drury. “Simple as that.”
Despite a rough first half, Southington had a chance to get within one score by halftime. The Knights had the ball in Wave territory, trailing 12-0 in the final 30 seconds, but a pass was intercepted and returned to the Knight 46-yard line.
On the ensuring Darien play, quarterback Peter Graham hit receiver Michael Minicus for a 46-yard touchdown and an 18-0 lead with 10 seconds left in the first half.
“That’s never good in that situation. You want to finish off the end of the half strong,” Drury said. “We got to make sure we don’t turn the ball over in that situation, and then we don’t let up big plays in those situations. Unfortunately it happened, and we’ve got to get better from it.”
Minicus caught touchdown throws of 33, 28 and 46 yards from Graham in the first half. Graham finished the game 16-for-33 for 236 yards while Minicus wound up with five catches for 122 yards.
Southington did stop Darien on a pair of two-point conversion attempts, and Anthony Henderson blocked an extra point on the final score. Henderson ended with five tackles and a sack.
“Anthony Henderson was all over the field making plays,” Henderson said. “He’s so explosive.”
Billy Carr led the Knights with 12 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Max Casella had nine tackles and a sack. Josh Vitti had five tackles and two pass break-ups while Jack McManus added two tackles. Ryan Walsh had four tackles and a pass break-up while Troy Kieras added four tackles.
Southington picked up its first points of the game via its defense in the third quarter. Graham dropped back to throw in his own end zone, but Southington pressure caused a holding call on Darien, resulting in a safety and an 18-2 score with 3:30 remaining in the quarter.
The Knights forced four three-and-outs and the safety in a five-drive stretch in the second half. When Darien did get deep into Southington territory on its sixth possession of the second half, the Knights forced a turnover on downs. On fourth and goal from the 10, Casella sacked Graham for a 12-yard loss and turnover on downs. Henderson slowed Graham down, then Casella finished the play off.
“They gave us a lot of opportunities,” Drury said about his defense. “The guys got beat on a couple big things, but [Darien is] a really good team. They’re going to put you in those situations.”
Unfortunately for Southington, the six possessions it had during that time frame went for three turnovers on downs and three punts. The Knights gained one first down, which came on the first play of the sixth drive.
“It’s just making the plays, [taking advantage of] the opportunities,” Drury said.
A Wave fumble forced and recovered by Carr with 4:40 left in the game gave the Knights yet another chance. This time, Southington went 84 yards, overcoming an offensive pass interference call on the second play of the drive to get into the end zone. Lafferty hit Vitti (4 catches, 62 yards) with a pass for a 10-yard touchdown to make the score 18-8 with 2:21 to go. The two-point conversion missed, and the ensuing onside was recovered by Darien.
“We’ve got to respond, there’s no question. We’re going to go get back to practice and get better at every phase of what we’re doing,” Drury said. “I thought we did some real good stuff tonight, and I just saw some stuff that we got to do the fundamentals better.”
Home opener vs. Enfield
The Knights return home to face the surprising Eagles, who are 2-0. Enfield defeated East Hartford, 42-41, in its season opener, then knocked off New Milford, 29-25, on Sept. 20. Southington hosts Enfield on Friday at 7 p.m. on the turf of Fontana Field.
“We’ve got to be better ourselves,” Drury said. “It’s not about who we’re playing, it’s about executing better on our own accord.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com