Before the season started, the Southington football team set out to take back what it had been denied the season before - another Class LL title. Unfortunately, it just never materialized as planned.
There were plenty of questions that needed to be answered as the summer turned into the fall. The Blue Knights had lost some of their best players at key positions and who would step up and fill those roles were the cause of much speculation. But they never blinked.
There was a different feel to this team than the one that had also come so close to playing in the Class LL title game last year. This season, there was the feeling of a team that had bought all in to what the coaches were saying, to what the leaders were saying and for the first 11 games, it translated on the field. This version of Southington was closer and more cohesive out on that field, whether it was only a practice or under the Friday night lights. And it showed.
As they had so many times in the past, when the Blue Knights stepped between the white lines, there was little doubt who the better team was. Southington was often better coached, better prepared and simply more talented with the players executing the game plan to a T.
Winning on a week-to-week basis is hard in football. The semifinal loss to Darien Monday night showed as much. It not only takes hours of practice time on the field in the offseason, summer and regular season, it takes even more hours in the film room breaking down opponents, knowing their tendencies and making them look like they belonged on a whole different field. Any time a team is able to come away with a victory, it is considered great, but showing up and winning in the fashion it did with the level of preparedness it did showed the level of dedication the players and coaches in the program put in.
This senior class, as the one that preceded it did, had only known winning much of the time. From its sophomore year to this one, the group had gone 34-2. The Blue Knights just happened to lose to a better Darien team for the second year in a row.
But even after losing the talent it had from last season, Southington found a way to be a better, more complete team. Players were asked to do more than in previous seasons and this year was a changing of the guard and in the end, nine players received all-conference honors.
Offensively, Vance Upham took over at the starting running back position and was the driving force for a unit that averaged just over 41 points per game and relied on the run more than it had in the past. He rushed for a school single-season record 1,964 yards and 25 touchdowns (27 total), breaking the school’s all-time record for career rushing yards in the process. As he went, so too did the offense. His backup, junior Brandon Kohl ran for 652 yards and eight scores on just 65 carries and will no doubt have a bigger role next season.
Quarterback Will Barmore continually developed as a passer in his first year leading the offense, throwing for 1,806 yards and 24 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. Just when teams thought they had the signal caller figured out or pegged into a role, he would show something more.
His favorite target, Anthony Plantamuro, who did a little bit of everything for the Blue Knights from offense to defense to special teams, finished 2016 with 46 catches for 663 yards and 12 scores. He also ran for 139 yards and three touchdowns and passed for two more. Whatever the team needed, the senior would provide.
Tight end Richie Rivera, who missed all of 2015 with a broken leg, became a dangerous weapon in the passing game as well, especially towards the end of the season.
In all but two games, the offense scored 40 points or more.
“We’re going to miss them,” Southington head coach Mike Drury said of his seniors. “All the stuff we asked them to do, they worked hard and were the driving force of the team. They did a great job. They came out and battled [Monday]. I think they left their mark on the program and had great careers for us.”
Questions will once again surround the unit entering next season with so many key seniors graduating, but if history over the last few years is any indication, the Blue Knights should be ready to reload and gear up for what could be another title run next season.
On the opposite side of the ball, Southington had a number of key contributors, including another outstanding linebacking corps consisting of Upham and juniors Joe Koczera, Ian Hall and Ryan Montalvo.
Three of the four combined to be the top tacklers on the team with Upham totaling 83, Koczera 80 and Hall 68. A torn ACL cost Montalvo the final half of the season, a huge loss, but his return next season to offset the departure of Upham should once again solidify one of the unit’s strongest groups.
There were also plenty of playmakers at the other levels as well. Senior Tyson Harris and junior Sam Thompson tied for the team lead with three interceptions, while junior Sean Scanlon led the team with 5 1/2 sacks.
This season, the Blue Knights allowed their opponents to score a minuscule average of 13.3 points per game and held seven teams to 14 points or fewer. Southington will be losing some key members of that defense, but will be bringing back plenty of talent.
Looking back, going 11-1 is never an easy feat-just ask all of the teams that failed to qualify for the postseason, let alone reach the semifinals. The season may not have ended like many may have wanted but, after all, it is hard to win in football. That was the message Drury delivered to his team following Monday night’s loss.
“I just said you don’t always win,” the head coach said. “Unfortunately, you don’t. We’re back in a similar situation as last year. But that doesn’t mean you prepare yourself. All the work you put in, everything they’ve done, everything we’ve asked they’ve been all in on it. Unfortunately, you don’t always get the results you want, but that doesn’t mean you weren’t better off for it.”
Now, one chapter has closed and another is set to begin.
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @DavidGlovach