EAST HARTFORD — Friday night’s CCC clash of titans lived up to expectations. Round 2 just may come in the Class LL playoffs.
In a game that featured big plays on both sides and big momentum swings, Southington avenged last year’s loss to East Hartford with a 42-27 CCC Division I crossover win.
Southington overcame a pair of 14-point deficits in the first half, scoring 28 unanswered points after falling behind 21-7 in the first quarter.
Southington didn’t lead until 23 seconds remained in the third quarter, when Jacob Drema found a wide-open Jacob Flynn on an 82-yard touchdown pass. Tanner LaRosa’s 63-yard touchdown run extended Southington’s lead to 35-21 with 6:53 to play.
East Hartford, behind do-everything senior quarterback Raquan Thompkins, came right back to cut the deficit to 35-27 with 6:34 to play. Thompkins completed two passes for 80 yards, hitting Jayden Gardner in the end zone from 44 yards out.
The win kept Southington unbeaten at 7-0. East Hartford fell to 6-1. The Blue Knights entered the game ranked No. 3 in Class LL playoff points. East Hartford was No. 5. Both teams were also ranked in the state polls.
“Our goal was to just chip away and be even at the break,” Southington head coach Mike Drury said. “We just had to respond and do our jobs.
“Those guys over there (East Hartford) fought real hard and have some great athletes. I’m just proud of the way we responded.”
Overcoming deficits of 14-0 and 21-7, the Blue Knights tied the game at halftime 21-21.
After stopping East Hartford for a second time on fourth down, Southington took over with 1:05 to play in the half. Drema completed his only two passes of the first half to drive Southington 55 yards in 20 seconds.
Drena hit Jamie Lamson with a 39-yard pass and then drew the Blue Knights even with 37 seconds on the clock when he found Flynn on a 16-yard scoring toss.
It was Flynn’s ninth touchdown catch of the season. Lamson caught just two passes, but covered 115 yards in doing so.
Southington’s defense took over after struggling in the first quarter to contain the high-powered Hornets’ offense.
The Blue Knights stopped East Hartford on fourth down three times, none bigger than Matt Thompson’s interception in the end zone. Thompson finished with three picks in the game, including an interception on the game’s final play.
Thompson kept the game ball long after the final seconds ticked off the clock, spiking the ball in celebration around his Southington teammates.
“In the first quarter things were a little shaky; we just needed to figure them out,” Thompson said. “My defensive coordinator trusts me a lot. He thinks of me as a second coach out there. He really just gave me the ability to read the quarterback and make a play on the ball.”
After Thompson returned his second interception of the game to the Southington 37, LaRosa ripped off his second long run of the game to give Southington its 35-21 lead. LaRosa had two TD runs in the game and 210 yards on 22 carries.
Drena completed just six of 15 passes, but added three TDs to his season total of 22 and threw for 221 yards.
The Blue Knights found themselves down 21-7 after a highly entertaining first quarter. Surprisingly, Southington went to the ground to begin its comeback.
Running the ball exclusively, the Blue Knights drove 69 yards on eight rushes. Dilon Kohl ran the ball five times and capped off the scoring drive with a 4-yard touchdown run.
Thompkins, who ran and threw for scores in the first half, scored East Hartford’s third touchdown of the first 12 minutes as he faked a pass and ran 6 yards through the Southington defense untouched into the endzone.
Despite spending most of the second quarter on defense, Southington held East Hartford scoreless in the frame. The Blue Knights stopped East Hartford on fourth down with 4:49 to play in the half, ending the Hornets’ 12-play drive as Thompkins was called for intentional grounding to avoid a sack.
Drena’s first official pass was intercepted and returned 42 yards for a touchdown by East Hartford’s Quinton Haughton for a 7-0 Hornets’ lead. Drena had actually connected on a 30-yard pass to Will Downes on the game’s first play, but an illegal man down field penalty nullified the play.
Southington was forced to punt on its next possession and East Hartford went up 14-0 with 8:41 to play in the first quarter on just two passes by Thompkins – the second going 62 yards for a score to Jaquan Allen.
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