NEW BRITAIN — Jacob Drena knew it was a statement game for the Southington football team.
And when it mattered most, the Blue Knights didn’t think twice. They just went out and played like they practiced it.
Trailing 24-21 with 1 minute, 34 seconds left in regulation, Drena led a methodical 6-play, 80-yard drive that saw Tanner LaRosa cross the goal line from four yards out with 36 seconds remaining to give Southington a come-from-behind 27-24 win over New Britain Friday night at Veterans Stadium.
Drena completed his final four throws for 76 yards, 36 of which went to Will Downes and the other 40 going to Jamie Lamson to help the 11th-ranked Blue Knights move to 5-0 on the season, while handing the Hurricanes (4-1) their first loss.
Southington has now won 12 of the last 13 meetings, including 10 straight. New Britain hasn’t come away with a win in the series since 2009.
“We do a two-minute drill every week in practice against our defense and we beat our defense this week and that was a big thing,” said Drena, who finished his night 16-for-35 for 211 yards and two touchdowns, including 13-for-18 for 159 yards in the second half. “I shut the noise out [Friday]. Honestly, that was the most focused I was all game. I set my feet, got the ball into my guys hands and the O-Line was amazing. I hugged every single one of those guys after we walked off the field.”
There were three lead changes in the final 4:41 of the game.
Drena connected with Jacob Flynn on a 21-yard pass to give the Blue Knights their first lead of the game late in the fourth quarter, 21-18. But the Hurricanes responded with a long drive of their own, going 76 yards in nine plays, highlighted by the 35-yard pass and catch between Tahje Yopp and Chris Maldonado. Yopp capped off the drive two plays after that with a 15-yard run to put New Britain back on top with 1:48 left.
“It’s tough,” Yopp said after the loss. “We balled out. They’re a tough team, but it’s definitely tough.”
The Hurricanes held an 18-7 lead at the half thanks in large part to the performance of running back Shawn Robinson. The senior ran for 104 yards and two touchdowns — a 13-yard run at the 6:56 mark in the first quarter and a 10-yarder at the same time in the second to put his team up 12-7— in the first half. He finished with 152 yards on 27 carries.
DeShawn Clark caught an 11-yard pass from Yopp on 4th-and-5 with 15 seconds before the second-quarter clock expired to make it 18-7.
But after New Britain failed to score on its opening possession after halftime, after eating up nearly eight minutes of the third-quarter clock, Southington took control of the game’s momentum after Downes intercepted Yopp with 47 seconds left in the period, despite hardly playing on defense up to that point.
“It was all coaching,” Downes said. “Before the drive, I asked my coach were he wanted me to lineup and he told me outside. Me getting that pick was all because of that.”
Downes played as much of a crucial role in the Blue Knights’ comeback as Drena did.
On Southington’s following drive, the receiver came up with a pair of catches, including one that went for 24 yards and set up a 16-yard touchdown pass from Drena to Lamson to cut the deficit to 18-14.
Downes then came up with a diving 14-yard catch on the team’s next drive, one that ended with the 21-yard catch by Flynn. He finished with six catches for 85 yards. Lamson had 66 yards on five grabs.
Some of Downes’ success on offense had to do with the Hurricanes missing Kaiyon Gunn in the secondary. The cornerback, who has four interceptions on the season, was injured in the second quarter and didn’t return. His replacement was picked on the rest of the night.
“He was supposed to be outside-leverage jamming [Downes] and he ended up inside-leverage jamming him.” New Britain head coach Tebucky Jones said. “And that’s how it went.”
The biggest difference in the game, however, was on special teams. The Blue Knights blocked the point after kick after Robinson’s first touchdown run. The Hurricanes elected to go for a two-point conversion on their next two scores and failed to capitalize both times. It ended up being the deciding three-point swing.
“It’s huge,” Southington head coach Mike Drury said. “We talk to the guys, every point counts. Evan Johanns, our kicker, coined the term ECP, every point counts. But that’s big. In tight games like this, special teams always makes the difference.”
Both teams will now enter their bye weeks, although feeling much differently. New Britain will try to regroup with a 1-4 Hall team waiting. The Blue Knights will try to continue the momentum built from Friday when they host 2-3 Conard.
“We’ll be back,” Hurricanes lineman Devon Bishop said.
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 firstname.lastname@example.org
NO. 11 SOUTHINGTON 27, NEW BRITAIN 24
At New Britain
Southington (5-0) 7 0 0 20 — 27
New Britain (4-1) 6 12 0 6 — 24
NB—Shawn Robinson 13 run (kick failed), 6:56
S—Tanner LaRosa 1 run (Evan Johanns kick), 3:03
NB—Robinson 10 run (pass failed), 6:56
NB—Dashawn Clark 11 pass from Tahje Yopp (run failed), 0:15
S—Jamie Lamson 16 pass from Jacob Drena (Johanns kick), 11:33
S—Jacob Flynn 21 pass from Drena, (Johanns kick), 4:41
NB—Yopp 15 run (kick failed), 1:34
S—LaRosa 4 run (kick failed), 0:36