CIAC FOOTBALL: Cheshire can’t sustain quick jump on Simsbury

CIAC FOOTBALL: Cheshire can’t sustain quick jump on Simsbury

SIMSBURY — About a foot of snow fell in this town during the recent storm.

It seemed the Cheshire Rams would add to the local burden in Wednesday night’s CIAC football quarterfinals.

Instead, the Simsbury Trojans brushed aside an early Cheshire flurry and surged to a 17-14 Class LL victory at Holden Field.

Fifth-seeded Cheshire went up 14-0 in the first quarter before No. 4 Simsbury rebounded with 17 unanswered points in the second quarter and then held the Rams scoreless in the second half.

Simsbury’s defensive effort was aided by two huge turnovers in the fourth quarter. The Trojans recovered a fumble and picked off a pass — both in the red zone — to preserve the lead.

Both teams were making their first state tournament appearance in 10 years. Simsbury improved to 10-1 and will advance to play top-seeded Newtown (11-0) in Monday’s semifinal. Cheshire’s season came to an end at 8-3.

It was a disjointed finish for Cheshire — not just to the season, which saw seven straight wins at one point, but to the game, which saw Cheshire take early control.

The Rams forced Simsbury to punt on its opening possession, took over at their own 21 and proceeded to march 79 yards to the opening score.

Jake McAlinden did the heavy lifting with six carries and Alec Frione made the big gain gathering on a 42-yard pass from Jason Shumilla.

On the TD, Shumilla hit Colby Griffin from 4 yards out. Jotham Casey connected on the PAT and, 6:43 into the game, Cheshire was on top 7-0.

That lead doubled before the quarter was out. Cheshire forced a second Simsbury punt, took over at the Trojans 39 and promptly cashed in on the short field.

Again, it was on a touchdown pass from Shumilla, this time to Frione from 22 yards. That extended the Cheshire lead to 14-0 with 3:14 left in the quarter.

Then came the second frame and a sudden swing in fortune as Simsbury turned the momentum — and the lead — around.

It actually started with disappointment. The Trojans gained a first-and-goal at the Cheshire 9 only to see the Rams dig in on defense

and make a stop on downs. Cheshire linebacker Jacob Dubois laid the lumber at the 3-yard line on the fourth-down play.

There was a consolation prize for the home team, though: a safety that cut the gap to 17-2 with 7:34 to go until halftime.

From there, the pendulum gained speed.

First, the Trojans capitalized on the short field after the ensuing punt. John Mairano capped the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run that pulled Simsbury to within 14-9 with 2:45 on the clock.

A costly helmet-to-helmet penalty on Cheshire fed the drive.

Simsbury’s defense then took its turn, stopping Cheshire and forcing a punt. On that kick, the snap sailed over Casey’s head. Casey managed to track the ball down and kick it away, but only to the Cheshire 10-yard line.

Two plays later, Mairano motored home from eight yards out. The Trojans went for two after the score and converted on a pass from Aiden Boeshans to Brendan Gaffney.

Cheshire’s 14-0 lead was gone. Simsbury, with 17 unanswered points over the final 7½ minutes of the first half, had a 17-14 advantage at the break.

That lead stood through the third quarter and, despite some big chances for Cheshire, it stood through the fourth.

In the final frame, Frione re-lit the Cheshire fire. His interception and return gave the Rams the ball at the Simsbury 43 with 9:52 to play.

The offense got to work and gained the red zone, moving down to the Simsbury 4. Then disaster struck. Cheshire fumbled a pitch and Simsbury’s Daniel Sohn made the recovery at the 14.

There was still 6:16 to play. Cheshire defense came on, forced a punt and the offense got busy once more, driving to the Simsbury 25.

Again, though, the Trojans would bar the door. Again, it was on a turnover, this time an interception. Zach Gilbert made the pick at the Simsbury 4 and returned it to the 15 with just 1:23 left. By gaining a few first downs, Simsbury was able to run out the clock.