WEST HAVEN — Steve Hamel and his playmates on the Southington defensive unit felt like the student who studied hard and aced his final exam.
Mike Drury and his coaching staff were spot on in their preparation. The defense responded in kind with sparkling execution.
Jameles and Maxwells were coming at Ridgefield from every angle on both sides of the ball. By the time the second quarter was half spent, the verdict was no longer in doubt.
Alex Jamele grabbed two touchdown passes from Stephen Barmore and scored another on an interception return Saturday as the fourth-ranked Blue Knights marched into the Class LL championship with a 45-0 rout of No. 8 Ridgefield at Ken Strong Stadium.
The true final exam comes Saturday night at 6:05 p.m. at CCSU’s Arute Field when Southington seeks the second state title in program history against Fairfield Prep. The Knights’ first title came in 1998. Saturday’s showdown will mark their seventh visit to a state final.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” Drury said. “It’s what your work for year round. The kids deserve this. They did a great job.”
Jamele, who broke the state record for touchdown receptions in a season (26), caught TD passes of 22 and 29 yards. His 40-yard pick-6 came early in the second quarter to give the Blue Knights (11-1) a two-touchdown lead. He deflected credit to his team, stressing the family environment that binds the Knights together.
“It’s really not about the touchdowns,” said Jamele, a junior whose older brother Zack excelled at linebacker. “Yeah, [breaking records and scoring touchdowns] is a good feeling, but I’m more focused about the game. I have to give everyone else credit for the touchdowns as well. We have tremendous athletes on this team and when everyone does their job I don’t think we can be stopped.”
The defense limited Ridgefield quarterback Ryan Dunn to a season-low 46 yards. He was intercepted twice, sacked twice, hurried into early throws and his receivers will be nursing welts for days to come. Hamel made big plays when they still mattered.
“We had to focus on our keys,” said Hamel, a 6-foot, 185-pound junior. “We watch film every day, twice a day. We figured out what they doing, when they were doing it and how to stop it. It was disciplined defense. I give that to the coaches. They really pushed us all week. We were mad being out there four, five hours a day, but I wouldn’t trade this for the world.”
Ridgefield’s feature back Will Bonaparte gained his yardage (24 carries, 171 yards), but it represented more than 75 percent of the Tigers’ output.
“Bonaparte’s a great running back. We had to fly to the ball and contain him,” Drury said.
“He got some yardage on us. We bent a little bit, but we didn’t break. We made some big plays when we needed them. The kids were playing physical and fast, and that’s what we preach.”
Southington’s first drive stalled on the Ridgefield 9 and Kyle Smick’s field goal attempt into the wind went wide left, but the rest of the half belonged to the Blue Knights.
On the next possession, the Knights drove 83 yards in nine plays with Barmore hitting Jamele from 22 yards out.
A 56-yard punt by Smick early in the second quarter pinned the Tigers (10-3) inside their own 10. On third-and-14 with Dunn throwing into the wind, Jamele picked off a pass like a center fielder camping under a fly ball and raced 40 yards for a 14-0 lead.
Less than four minutes later, after the defense punctuated a 3-and-out with a sack, Jamele hauled in his record breaker on a 29-yard slant for a 21-0 advantage.
A penalty on the ensuing kickoff forced Ridgefield to start from its own 6. Southington linebacker Matt Thomson pounced on a fumble on the next play. The Tigers defense stiffened and Smick booted a 22-yard field goal.
A 43-yard run by Will Bonaparte keyed Ridgefield’s next possession, but Hamel stuck receiver Stephen Alt for no gain on a fourth-down play.
Tyler Hyde ripped off a 50-yard run with Robert Peckham making a touchdown-saving tackle at the Ridgefield 24. Two plays later, Barmore hit tight end Jay Rose inside the 10 and he broke a tackle before stumbling into the end zone for a 31-0 halftime lead.
“It’s a bad day to have a bad day against a really good team,” Ridgefield coach Kevin Callahan said. “They jumped on us early and stayed on us often.”
An interception by Hyde set up his one-yard plunge early in the third quarter. He added a second touchdown with a minute left in the quarter to close out the Southington scoring.
But it was the defense that left a lasting impression on Callahan.
“It’s pretty to easy to isolate us with Bonaparte if we’re not moving the ball through the air,” he said. “To take the passing game away the way they did made their job easier.”
Southington 45, Ridgefield 0
Class LL Semifinal
At Ken Strong Stadium
S—Alex Jamele 22 pass from Steve Barmore (Kyle Smick kick), 3:20
S—Jamele 40 interception return (Smick kick), 10:09
S—Jamele 29 pass from Barmore (Smick kick), 6:41
S—Smick 22 FG, 5:26
S—Jay Rose 24 pass from Barmore (Smick kick), 2:20
S—Tyler Hyde 1 run (Smick kick), 8:29
S—Hyde 2 run (Smick kick), 1:00
RUSHING—Ridgefield (32-180): Will Bonaparte 24-171, James Turner 2-2, Ryan Dunn 6-7; Southington (44-205): Hyde 22-153, Barmore 6-13, Zach Maxwell 5-34, A. Jamele 1-4, J. Rose 2-11, Matt Natelli 4-0, Luke Krotchko 2-0.
PASSING—Ridgefield: Dunn 9-24-2, 46 yds. Southington: Barmore 14-26-0, 192 yds.
RECEIVING—Ridgefield (24-46): Andrew Chuma 2-14, Erik Weber 1-3, Chris Rossini 1-22, Bonaparte 1-1, Stephen Alt 1-0, Jack Boscia 1-3, Christopher Longo 2-3. Southington (26-192): A. Jamele 6-79, Jay Rose 4-57, Joe Daigle 3-27, Kyle Borawski 1-29.