SOUTHINGTON – The Apple Valley Trophy is staying in Southington for another year as the Blue Knights took down rival Cheshire Thanksgiving morning in a 17-10 final.
The win locks up Southington's postseason position as No. 7 in Class LL, finishing the regular season at 8-2. Cheshire closes the season at 4-6, ranked 24th in Class L.
To be able to secure a postseason spot in the CIAC playoffs is an impressive feat for Class LL, which has been a gauntlet all season. For Southington, to do it on Thanksgiving in a rivalry matchup, it makes it even sweeter.
"Doing it against your rivals like Cheshire, it means a lot to us," said Southington's Jack Barnum. "... Never ever a better way to beat these guys and make them go back home to their turkey."
Scoring opened in Thursday's contest with an opening-drive field goal, leaning on the reliable leg of Barnum to nail a 40-yard kick to put Southington on the board first at 3-0 with 7:06 to go in the first.
A handful of flags on the following drive from Cheshire saw them net it's only first down of the half. The Rams kicked the ball away to Southington, who took over at midfield and held possession through the end of the quarter.
A run-heavy first quarter saw only three possessions in total. Neither side was able to break past a 3-0 score in the second quarter, with Cheshire punting three times, entering the half with Southington ahead.
Exiting halftime, the Blue Knights flexed their special teams strengths with a recovered onside kick.
Per head coach Mike Drury, the plan for the onside kick wasn't even considered until coming out of the locker room. Defensive coordinator Rob Levesque proposed the plan, which worked perfectly.
The Blue Knights capitalized on the recovery by going 48 yards down the field, ending with a 4-yard rushing score by Javon Thomas. The drive consisted mainly of screen passes and short runs, with an 8-yard reception by Justin Zitofsky setting up Thomas.
"We've been thinking about it all week," said Barnum on the onside kick attempt. Barnum, the team's starting quarterback, doubles as the kicker for the team. "So when he came out with it, it was a 'go' type of thing coming out of halftime. We went and everyone executed perfectly. ... It swings the momentum our way."
Cheshire punted again following the score, and then couldn't make up ground on advantageous field position off a Barnum missed field goal attempt, punting for the second time after the half. Following the second punt, Southington found paydirt again, this time off the legs of Lincoln Cardillo.
Cardillo's run capped off a 63-yard scoring drive, with Cardillo needing just a yard to get the ball into the end zone. With 4:27 to go in the third quarter, Southington held control of the game in all aspects at 17-0.
A 22-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter and an Ethan Rosenthal 4-yard receiving score at 1:03 had Cheshire within striking distance, but the Blue Knights were able to fall on a second onside kick attempt to seal the game and put the offense in victory formation.
Southington improves to 21-12 all-time and has won five in a row against Cheshire in the Apple Valley Classic.
With the game having serious playoff implications (Southington was already ranked No. 7 entering Thursday), Southington was looking to get a win by any way necessary. Barnum said to be there is special, and proves the Blue Knights belong in postseason play.
"It means a lot to us," said Barnum. "We started off as a Southington team that was doubted a lot and might not be able to do it, but we showed everyone we can do it and are going to go make a name for ourselves in the playoffs."