CHESHIRE — With a Class LL playoff berth there for the taking, the Southington football team received some good and bad news from its leader upon reaching the locker room at halftime.
The Blue Knights were making uncharacteristic mistakes at the most inopportune times. Senior captain Stephen Barmore laid out his message loud and clear.
“I said to the team, ‘There’s good news and bad news,’” the quarterback said. “The bad news was we we’re not playing well, but the good news was we didn’t play well and we were still up by seven. We just came out and executed and did what we needed to do. That’s why we pulled away.”
Barmore did much of the pulling himself. That’s why he left Maclary Sports Complex brandishing hardware that proclaimed him his team’s and the game’s most valuable offensive player.
Barmore threw for two touchdowns and ran for another Thursday morning as Southington clinched a home game in the Class LL quarterfinals on Tuesday with a 38-6 thumping of the Rams in the annual Apple Classic.
“He made the plays, he made the throws, he ran the ball well when needed,” Southington coach Mike Drury said. “He had a great game. He took control of the offense.”
Unofficially, the Knights have captured the fourth seed in the eight-team tournament and will host No. 5 Norwich Free Academy, which dropped its rivalry game to New London 9-7 Thursday at the cost of playing on the road. The CIAC Football Committee is slated to make the results official Saturday.
Southington (9-1) won for the second straight year and tied the Apple Classic series at nine wins apiece. Prior to the rebranding of the rivalry game in 1996, the teams met 18 times. The Rams hold a 19-17 lead overall.
Southington took a step forward on its first possession. Barmore hit Jay Rose in the seam of the defense for 38 yards and scored from the Cheshire 5 on the next play.
The Rams (4-7) went 70 yards in 13 plays on their first possession, but Southington linebacker Steven Hamel led a charge that stuffed Tony Marcucilli on fourth-and-goal from the 3 that kept the lead intact.
Southington’s defensive MVP Zach Maxwell called it the turning point.
“That changed the complexion of the game, if you think about it,” the senior linebacker said. “That could have put them right back in the game and it broke them.”
Both teams came up empty after long drives in the second quarter that left the halftime score at 7-0.
The Knights took advantage of a short field after the defense forced a Cheshire punt on the first series of the second half. Five plays later, Hyde ripped through the center of the line for a 25-yard touchdown.
Cheshire answered promptly when some deft backfield exchanges and superb blocking opened up a gaping hole for Jack Cunningham to embark on a 58-yard TD run.
It was the Rams’ final offensive gasp. They made just one first down the rest of the third quarter. By the time they made another, Southington was 32 points ahead and it was mop-up time.
Cheshire coach Don Drust noted that the game was a microcosm of the season. The Rams battled West Haven and Hand, but couldn’t finish.
“When we show up and play the way we’re capable of playing, we’re a pretty good football team,” Drust said. “For some reason we have a hard time coming back from some adversity and the second half kind of sums up what our season was. That’s on me. It’s my job to find a way to get our kids to respond and I’ll put that on my shoulder.”
The Knights regained their two-TD edge with 3:14 left in the third quarter when Hyde scored from the 3. Maxwell recovered a fumble on a botched exchange from center, which led to a 28-yard field goal by Kyle Smick and a 24-6 lead.
Another fumble sent Southington on its next scoring drive. Hamel recovered at the Cheshire 40 and a three-yard Barmore-to-Rose aerial put the contest out of reach. The third lost fumble of the half enabled Barmore to connect with Alex Jamele for a 25-yard TD 30 seconds later.
“[Barmore’s] always been a leader out there, but this year’s he’s stepped up that role within the team,” Drury said. “He’s really getting comfortable with the flow of the game. He doesn’t get rattled. He’s really grown into a tremendous player.”
Southington 38, Cheshire 6
At Maclary Sports Complex
S—Steve Barmore 5 run (Kyle Smick kick) 10:58
S—Tyler Hyde 24 run (Smick kick) 8:04
C—Jack Cunningham 58 run (run failed) 4:24
S—Hyde 3 run (Smick kick) 3:14
S—Smick 28 FG, 1:34
S—Jay Rose 3 pass from Barmore (Smick kick) 5:08
S—Alex Jamele 25 pass from Barmore (Smick kick) 4:38
RUSHING—Southington (26-169): Hyde 12-52, Barmore 8-48, Zach Maxwell 4-71, Team 2-(-2); Cheshire (51-154): Andrew Yamin 17-62, Cunningham 16-71, Josh MacNiven 12-27, Tucker Ecke 2-10, Tony Marcucilli 2-(-3), Team 2-(-13).
PASSING—Southington/Barmore 14-22-1, 189 yards; Cheshire/MacNiven 7-13-0, 68 yards.; Ecke 1-1-0, 4 yards.
RECEIVING—Southington (14-189): Rose 6-74, Jamele 3-49, Joe Daigle 3-47, Kyle Borawski 1-9, Hyde 1-10. Cheshire (8-72) Mark Dietrich 4-38, Joe El-Shamouby 2-12, Cunningham 1-13, Yamin 1-9.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—Southington: Smick 28 WL, 2nd quarter (8:16)