SOUTHINGTON — The Southington offense and running back Tyler Hyde started slowly.
After an early field goal, quarterback Steve Barmore struggled to get into a rhythm and Hyde hadn’t carried the ball, but the defense rose to the occasion.
The offense got on track with three second-quarter touchdowns over a five-minute stretch and the fourth-seeded Blue Knights never looked back.
Hyde ran for four touchdowns and Barmore passed for three Tuesday night as the Knights eased past No. 5 Norwich Free Academy 52-14 at Fontana Field to advance to the Class LL semifinals.
The Knights (10-1) will take on Ridgefield, which held off top-seeded Newtown 35-33. Kickoff is slated for 2 p.m. on Saturday at West Haven High’s Ken Strong Stadium.
“It was absolutely my best game ever,” said Hyde, who ran for 155 yards including two TD runs of 39, one of 11 and another of six. “I was thinking about it all game long. We were passing the ball good and then we started running blast left and right, and it was working. We started running the ball like crazy and the line blocked absolutely amazing. I never saw anything like it.”
Three of Hyde’s touchdowns and all but 30 of his yards came in the second half.
“Breaking tackles, great blocking and that second, third and fourth effort is the stuff we’re talking about,” Southington coach Mike Drury said. “He ran like a man possessed.”
An acrobatic grab by Ryan Borawski on a 27-yard pass from Barmore set up a 30-yard field goal by Kyle Smick when the first drive stalled.
The red-zone failure signaled the beginning of a defensive struggle. The Knights went three-and-out on their next three possessions.
“It took us a little while to get our rhythm,” Barmore said. “After the first quarter, we buckled down and said this isn’t how we play. This isn’t how we’ve been playing all year, so let’s pick it up.”
The Wildcats sustained a drive late in the first quarter, but on fourth-and-goal from the 4 they elected to attempt a field goal, which Jordon Martell yanked wide left on the first play of the second quarter.
The drive also featured the first and last appearance by NFA’s Boston College-bound running back Marcus Outlow. Outlow was suffering from a shoulder injury coming in, didn’t start the game, ran the ball three times for eight yards and limped off with just under five minutes to go in the first quarter.
NFA coach Jemal Davis said he knew little about Outlow’s injury.
“He wasn’t ready to go and at that point we just had to continue to move on,” Davis said. “I don’t know what the injury was or the extent of it was, but it was some injury.”
The Knights’ offense shifted into gear on their second possession of the second quarter, boosted by a pair of major penalties assessed to NFA on one play. A pass interference call prompted a verbal response that resulted in a 30-yard gift.
Hyde’s first run went for 18 yards. His next one covered six for the first touchdown of the game and a 10-0 lead.
Hyde paid tribute to his linemen, including tackle Jimmy Nardi, who was questionable after an injury on Thanksgiving.
“Even with a hurt ankle, he came out here and did a wonderful job,” Hyde said. “Joe D’Agostino, Jon Rauch, Sal Conti, Noah McDonald, Carlos Gill: all of them. They did an excellent job and got it done.”
An eight-yard sack by Matt Koczera and Zach Maxwell blew up the next NFA possession. On third-and-4 from midfield, Maxwell took a pass in the flat, broke a tackle and raced to pay dirt with 3:30 left before intermission.
Matt Maxwell got his hands on a punt when the defense stoned NFA once again and Southington had the ball on the Wildcats’ 26. Alex Jamele slid to his knees to snatch a 10-yard delivery from Barmore and the Knights went to the locker room with a 24-0 advantage.
Forced to play from behind with an offense predicated on the rush, NFA was in a heap of trouble.
Two incompletions and a sack by Zack Spooner forced a three-and-out to start the second half. Barmore connected with Joe Daigle for a 21-yard strike for a 31-0 lead.
NFA got on the scoreboard midway through the third quarter on a 14-yard pass from Beaudreault to Ramel Williams, but Hyde answered after Matt Thomson recovered a fumble at the NFA 11. Hyde bolted for a 39-yard score before Beaudreault led the Wildcats (8-3) down the field for their second score, a one-yard pass to Williams.
Hyde’s second 39-yard scamper with 3:34 to go broke the 50-point barrier.
Smick made all seven of his extra-point placements and has now converted 58 of 59 this season.
Southington 52, NFA 14
Class LL Quarterfinal
At Joseph Fontana Field
S—Kyle Smick 30 FG, 11:12
S—Tyler Hyde 6 run (Smick kick), 7:20
S—Zach Maxwell 50 pass from Steve Barmore (Smick kick), 3:30
S—Alex Jamele 10 pass from Barmore (Smick kick), 1:52
S—Joe Daigle 21 pass from Barmore (Smick kick), 9:34
N—Ramel Williams 14 pass from Alex Beaudreault (Jordon Martell kick), 6:38
S—Hyde 11 run (Smick kick), 2:50
S—Hyde 39 run (Smick kick), 10:51
N—Williams 1 pass from Beaudreault (Martell kick), 7:22
S—Hyde 39 run (Smick kick), 3:34
RUSHING—NFA (43-116): Outlow 3-8, Exum-Strong 18-74, Williams 3-3, Beaudreault 16-30, Ricks 1-30, Anthony DiPietro 2-(-23); Southington (25-155): Hyde 14-155, Barmore 6-0, Maxwell 5-0.
PASSING—NFA: Beaudreault 17-29-1, 168 yds.; Anthony DiPietro 1-1-0, 10 yds., Southington: Barmore 9-17-0, 168 yds.
RECEIVING—NFA (18-178) Williams 8-80, Exum-Strong 3-9, Gooden 4-67, Holland 2-12, Daniel MacLean 1-10. Southington (9-168) Jamele 4-51, Rose 1-13, Borawski 1-27, Daigle 2-27, Maxwell 1-50.