PLAYOFF FOOTBALL: Time to dial it up! Southington, Maloney prep for Tuesday quarterfinals

Southington coach Mike Drury and his Maloney counterpart (and former college roommate) Kevin Frederick spend a lot of the football season on the phone, talking matchups and schemes, comparing notes.

They’ve still got lots to talk about.

Drury and Frederick once again have their teams playing after Thanksgiving — Drury for the eighth time in his 10 seasons in Southington, Frederick for the fourth straight season at Maloney.

Their latest postseason excursions open tonight at 6:30 in state quarterfinal matchups. Drury and the Blue Knights travel to New Canaan in Class LL. Frederick and the Spartans host Bristol Central at Falcon Field in Class L.

Both Southington and Maloney won on Thanksgiving and neither is at all fatigued by the thought of playing a second time in six days.

“This team is hungry," Frederick said the day after Maloney’s 41-7 Stoddard Bowl victory over Platt. “They are locked in on what we want to do and they are ready to put in the effort over the next few days to go out and beat Bristol Central.”

In Southington, on a frosty Monday night, Drury said, “Our guys are dialed in. They’re excited; they’re ready for the challenge. We’re all ready for the challenge.”

Southington, the No. 7 seed in Class LL at 8-2, is an underdog to New Canaan (9-1), which moved up to No. 2 by knocking off unbeaten Darien 12-7 on Thanksgiving. The Rams also moved up to No. 1 overall in The Day of New London’s state coaches poll.

Maloney, the No. 3 seed in Class L at 9-1 and the No. 5 team overall in the coaches poll, is a favorite over No. 6 Bristol Central (9-1).

Yet Bristol Central, like Maloney, hasn’t lost since dropping a close game on opening night. (BC fell 7-6 to unbeaten Bloomfield, Maloney 13-7 to Southington.)

Central also has one of the state’s most dynamic players in Victor Rosa, the senior quarterback who is heading to UConn.

Operating out of the Wildcat in much the way his BC predecessors Tim Washington and D.J. Hernandez did 20 years ago, Rosa is the state’s rushing leader (2,607 yards) and scoring leader (38 TDs, 252 points).

Throw in Rosa’s 737 passing yards and, well, it’s no mystery who the Spartans must contain tonight in confronting an attack that averages 37.8 points and 408 yards a game.

“Their offense is probably the best offense we have played this season,” said Frederick. “Victor can throw it, too, and we can’t have any busted assignments. We have to be physical. When you have a tough Division I athlete like that, you have to get 11 hats to the football.”

Expect Kenny McMillan (73 tackles), Daejon Nixon (64), Johnny Rosado (56) and Kuran Wiggins (56) to be among those 11 hats. They are the Maloney tackling leaders.

Rosado and Wiggins also have three interceptions apiece. Their teammate Rayshawn Shelton has that beat with four.

Offensively, the Spartans are in stride both on the ground (184.4 ypg.) and through the air (177.3).

Junior Joshua Boganski is the area rushing leader with 1,303 yards and 12 touchdowns on 378 carries.

Senior QB Angel Arce has completed 104 of 179 attempts and is coming off a scintillating Stoddard Bowl in which he threw for 303 yards and had as many TD throws (3) as he had incompletions.

The Blue Knights are also looking to build off a solid Thanksgiving, though in their case it was a bounce-back after a stunning 31-24 loss to Conard, a game in which Southington let a fourth-quarter lead get away.

That game, Drury said, was a wake-up call for the defense, which made some uncharacteristic mistakes. Those were cleaned up in time for Thanksgiving, when the Blue Knights beat Cheshire 17-10 to claim their ninth straight Apple Valley Classic.

Southington goes into the postseason allowing 11.7 points a game.

“We will go on the road, but the Dungeon mentality is mobile," said senior defensive lineman Austin Pszczolkowski, Southington’s defensive MVP on Thursday.

Pszczolkowski (79) and fellow defensive end Jackson Rusiecki (80) are also quite mobile. Their speed on the edge is a hallmark of the Southington defense, which has been particularly fierce against the run, allowing just 84.8 rushing yards per game.

The Blue Knights need to bring that tonight. New Canaan averages 174 yards rushing and 123 passing.

Senior QB Henry Cunney (94-for-149) has thrown for 1,212 yards and run for 264. Senior Vincent Cognetta (93-665) is the leading rusher, junior Mack Seelert (35-448) the leading receiver.

“The Number 1 thing with them is we’ve got to stop the run,” Drury said. “We’ve got to make sure that we do a good job against the run game and get them out of what they like to do.”

Conversely, the Blue Knights need to take care of the ball when it’s in their hands. New Canaan’s defense, led by 6-foot-5, 240-pound nose guard Ned Brady, who is heading to Army, doesn’t yield ground readily, allowing just 8.6 points a game. 

“They have good team speed on the back end; they play disciplined football. They’ll want to bring pressure,” Drury noted. “They did a great job versus Darien; they’ve done a great job the whole year defensively.

“We’ve just got to make sure we’re executing, getting positive-yardage gains, getting ourselves in good down-and-distance situations,” Drury added. “The key is no mistakes, not putting the ball on the ground, no self-inflicted wounds. We’ve got to play good clean football — our style, our tempo and physical.”

Area passing leader Jack Barnum goes into the game with 1,690 yards and 17 TDs. He’s connected on 131 of 217 attempts.

Three of his receivers have 30-plus catches — seniors Justin Zitofsky (33-258), Ryan DelMonte  (32-537) and Gavin Anderson (31-469) — and a fourth, sophomore John Flynn (17-218), is coming off a 4-for-69 Apple Valley Classic.

It’s a passing attack averaging 177.1 yards. The running game has been good for 156.4 behind senior Javon Thomas (117-722) and junior Lincoln Cardillo (90-697).

“It means a lot to us,” Barnum said of the imminent playoff trip. “We were a Southington team that (people thought) might not be able to do it, but we showed everyone that we could do it. Now we are going to make an impression in the playoffs.”

Barnum spoke Thursday shortly after being named overall MVP of the Apple Valley Classic. The night before, at the team dinner, the captains of the 2020 team spoke. They lost out on a chance to compete for a state title due to the cancelled season. 

“The message was (the playoffs) are a privilege,” Drury reported. “It's a great thing."

Ron Buck contributed to this story


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