SOUTHINGTON - In its first home football game since 2019, Southington's student body, faculty and fans packed into its football stadium to watch the Blue Knights start the season 1-0 with a 13-7 win over Maloney.
The win came off a second half surge from Southington, who scored the go-ahead and game-winning score with under two minutes to go on a receiving touchdown by Ryan Delmonte. Delmonte, knowing the importance of the score, peeled off the field after crossing the goal line to celebrate in front of a white-out student section.
Delmonte was swarmed by his teammates as his classmates tossed white baby powder into the air. Having a packed house again in the home opener was expected by most football teams returning to the field in the state of Connecticut, but having a fan base behind the Blue Knights all night as they progressed was key.
"It's crazy because we haven't played out in front of a crowd in a couple of years, so it felt great to be back out and have them watching us," said Delmonte, who was still catching up with fans and friends after the stands at emptied out.
The return of fans to football stadiums is a welcome sight for the state of Connecticut, who didn’t have an organized football season last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Players, students and fans petitioned and rallied to make things happen a year ago, but the CIAC and Governor Ned Lamont didn’t budge in the decision making process.
But, with a CIAC announcement in June green lighting the return of the fall sports season, things pointed to normal. And after a CIAC and Department of Health statement in August urging student-athletes to get vaccinated passed, the reality of a season continued to set in as teams got back up to speed late in the summer.
Sooner than people expected, September 10 came around, and people filed in to football stadiums across the state in droves, packing the stands well before kick off for the first home games since the 2019 season concluded.
The fans on Friday in Southington, even when the Blue Knights were down and struggling for positive yards, were up and loud, helping keep the energy up.
“The fans kept us charged. It was a school effort tonight,” said coach Rob Levesque.
In front of the home town crowd Delmonte pulled down four catches for 106 yards, his game winner coming with 1:14 left in the game. Justin Zotofsky had five catches for 19 yards, John Flynn had three receptions for 25 yards and Gavin Anderson had one catch for 13 yards.
Jack Barnum had one passing touchdown and was 13-for-23 in passing for 163 yards.
On the ground, Jared Guida’s third quarter score from 18 yards out tied up the game at 7-7. He finished with 36 yards.
The only score allowed by Southington was a 16-yard score by Austin Studley for a touchdown before halftime. Ian Graham led Maloney in scoring, bringing in 10 catches for 118 yards.
Jackson Rusiecki led Southington in sacks, tallying 1 ½. Rusiecki sacked Maloney’s Angel Arce on third down to lock up a win for Southington as it backed the Spartans up deep into its own territory.
NO DRURY, NO PROBLEM
The usual head coach for Southington, Mike Drury, was unable to coach Friday night due to a non-COVID related illness. Stepping in for him was assistant coach Rob Levesque, who much like his team, stepped up to the occasion en route to the win.
"Coach Drury has built a program here, and he always tells us it's bigger than any one person," said Levesque. "Him being out, he was more than confident in the coaches and the kids that they would get it done. Programs don't rely on one person. He had a good message to the team beforehand and they wanted to come out for him, and they did."
With Drury on pace to return this Friday in the Week 2 in Southington's road contest at Glastonbury, there's plenty to work on as he gets back to the sideline. Levesque's takeaways from last Friday starts with execution.
"Execution, on both sides of the ball," said Levesque on what will be worked on this week in practice. "Blown coverage on defense was six points, and that's exactly what we saw in the first half. We executed in the second half and played pretty well on defense.
“Offense, we had some mistakes and some penalties, some costly sacks on first down. Executing on first down and getting a favorable down and distance," added Levesque.
Kickoff against Glastonbury comes at 6:30 p.m.