SOUTHINGTON - As soon as the Southington football team got its hands on its coveted trophy, the players roared in approval.
It was a little bit of a different scene from last year, when the wind and the cold forced the Blue Knights back into their locker room earlier than they would have liked.
Wins over rival Cheshire are always worth taking the time to celebrate for Southington.
On Thursday, the players had no intention of leaving early, especially when they got to enjoy another Apple Valley Classic win, this one on the Rams’ turf.
In a way, the Thanksgiving Day game has become a strict tradition for the Blue Knights. Wake up, head to the field (either home or away), play Cheshire and win the Apple Valley Classic.
Tim O’Shea, a former Southington receiver and current tight end for UConn, perhaps summed it up perfectly with a tweet after the game, “Only things certain in life: Death, Taxes, and a Southington AVC win.”
The Blue Knights have now won eight straight against the rival Rams. Thursday’s 21-20 double-overtime victory was the latest installment of Southington’s dominance in the series.
But as the players celebrated and posed for pictures with each other and their trophy, they also recognized the importance of the victory outside of annual rivalry.
“I think it shows that when it comes down to the wire, we’re able to step up in those big moments and that we’re not going to lose,” said running back Dillon Kohl, who was named the Blue Knights’ Offensive MVP after rushing for 148 yards and two touchdowns, including one in the first overtime period.
Kohl’s point is a valid one, with the seventh-ranked Blue Knights (9-1) set to host a home quarterfinal game in the Class LL playoffs as the No. 2 seed on Tuesday.
Many of Southington’s games this season have not been particularly close. In fact, they haven’t been close at all. The Blue Knights have outscored their opponents by an average of 35-11 this season.
The team’s closest win prior to Cheshire was a 28-21 victory over Hall in Week 4, but even then, Southington held a sizeable lead before holding off a late Warriors’ rally.
It has been even more lopsided since the Blue Knights’ first bye week when they came away with four routs over East Hartford (41-7); Simsbury, the No. 4 seed in LL, (35-7); Glastonbury (20-0); and New Britain (42-0).
Against the Rams, however, Southington found itself in its tightest contest this season and didn’t pull out a win until the defense came up with a goal-line stand on a 2-point conversion attempt from the one and a half yard line in the second overtime.
In other words, when the team needed to make a big play in a crucial situation, it was able to.
“I’d say the biggest difference [in the game] is the way the guys responded,” head coach Mike Drury said. “No one got down. No one pointed fingers if something bad happened and our guys played together as a group. That’s an important thing.”
This will certainly be a good feature to have with Ridgefield (8-2) coming to Southington on Tuesday. The Tigers’ only losses this season have come against St. Joseph (10-0), the top seed in Class L and considered by many to be the best team in the state, and against defending Class LL champion Greenwich (8-2), which is also in the playoff field.
“Obviously, coming off a win is going to help a lot,” said safety Johnny Carreiro, who was the Blue Knights’ Defensive MVP. “We’re definitely confident. We believe in our team. We believe in our defense and our offense. Everyone has bought into the process.”
But Southington made a number of key plays in the Apple Valley Classic that should serve it well heading into the postseason.
In the first, Cheshire (8-2) reached the Blue Knights’ 3-yard line, but two plays later, on 2nd-and-goal, Max Casella forced a fumble and Carreiro recovered to keep the Rams out of the end zone.
In the first overtime, Southington responded to a 10-yard touchdown run by Rams tailback Jake McAlinden with a 4-yard scamper by Kohl. While in the second overtime, quarterback Brady Lafferty found Shane LaPorte for a 4-yard score to give the Blue Knights a 21-14 lead.
Then there was, of course, the goal-line stand.
Cheshire made it a one-point game after Jason Shumilla connected with Nicholas DiDomizio on a 16-yard touchdown pass in the second overtime. And when it looked like Southington had won after Jotham Casey’s extra point attempt went wide left, the Blue Knights were flagged for being offsides on the play. That sent the Rams to the one and a half-yard line.
But instead of going for the tie and a third extra period, Cheshire head coach Don Drust opted to go for the 2-point conversion and the win. Shumilla never broke the plane on a quarterback sneak. It sealed the fourth win over a winning team this season for Southington, but the first that actually challenged the Blue Knights.
“We want to play the best competition possible and we want to go against the best teams possible,” Kohl said. ‘We just want to play at the highest level we can and that’s all we’ve ever wanted to do. When you shy away from someone who says they’re better than us or thinks they’re up here and we’re down here, we just have that mindset that we’re just going to attack it. We’re going to go after them no matter how good they say they are or what their record is. We want to play the best.”
That’s certainly what awaits Southington and while it knows Thursday’s win was an important one, it also recognizes that it will be key to avoid putting itself in the positions it did against Cheshire. After all, a title is at stake.
“You gotta move on,” head coach Mike Drury said. “No one is going to care about that win. Our next opponent isn’t going to care about that win. We just have to keep moving forward here.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or