SOUTHINGTON — In an ironic twist of fate, Jack Barnum beat Maloney with his arm and not his toe Friday night.
Making his first varsity start as Southington’s starting quarterback, Barnum hooked up with Ryan DelMonte with 1:14 to play for what proved to be the winning touchdown pass in a 13-7 win over the Spartans.
The play, which covered 42 yards, came just under three minutes after Barnum had missed a 35-yard field goal wide right with the game tied 7-7.
“It happens, but all the guys had my back,” said Barnum about missing the potential winning field goal. “I should have made it, but I missed and they had my back.”
Barnum, Southington’s kicker since his sophomore year, is regarded as one of the state’s best at the craft. A 35-yarder is something of a chip shot for him.
Barnum has garnered attention from several colleges and was nearly automatic during Southington’s 2019 run to the CIAC Class LL state semifinals. So, when Southington’s final drive stalled inside the red zone Friday, the Blue Knights were in good hands (or a foot) with 4:11 to play.
But a high snap seemed to mess with Barnum’s timing, and a boot that was plenty long enough wasn’t on target. The game remained tied and seemed headed into overtime.
Little did Barnum — and the Southington faithful, for that matter — know Barnum the quarterback would get a chance to redeem Barnum the kicker in regulation.
“It just goes to show you he doesn’t get fazed,” said Southington head coach Mike Drury, who was forced to miss the opener due to a stomach virus and wasn’t on the Blue Knights’ sideline. “You got to have that as a kicker. Sometimes you’re going to miss, and you’re expected to make it the next time.
“He has that in him; he doesn’t get fazed. He was confident in what our guys were doing. He was confident ‘Del’ was going to make a play. He was confident he was going to make a big play.”
As for Barnum-the-kicker? He would miss again amid all the excitement of DelMonte’s touchdown. But he offered a pretty good excuse.
“I haven’t had to run 70 yards downfield to celebrate a touchdown and then kick a PAT,” Barnum deadpanned about missing the extra point after throwing his touchdown to DelMonte.
As for that winning TD?
“They (Maloney’s DBs) had left it open all night; (Ryan and I) kind of read it and hit it for a big play,” Barnum said. “Ryan broke a couple of tackles and did his thing. It’s all good.”
Well, up until the Barnum-to-DelMonte connection, things weren’t exactly “all good” for the Southington offense.
While they left Fontana Field celebrating a win, the Blue Knights looked lost on offense.
And that included Barnum, who finished the night with respectable numbers: 13-of-23 for 163 yards and no interceptions. But two passes to DelMonte in the fourth quarter alone accounted for 96 of Barnum’s passing yards.
DelMonte (4-106 receiving) nearly scored earlier in the fourth quarter. He was left wide open in the middle of the field and hauled in a 52-yard pass before being tripped up at the Maloney 20. The next play however saw the ball snapped over Barnum’s head and recovered by Maloney.
So, other than those two plays, and Jared Guida’s 18-yard touchdown run that tied the game in the third quarter, Southington never established any consistency on offense.
Not having Drury on the sidelines didn’t help. Drury is in charge of the Blue Knights offense. In his place, Southington was coached by defensive coordinator Rob Levesque.
“That was another wrinkle,” said Drury, who texted his good friend, Maloney coach Kevin Fredrick, a few hours prior to kickoff that he wouldn’t be coaching in Friday’s game. Instead, Drury watched via YouTube his first-time varsity players on offense struggle.
“These kids just need more reps and more games under their belts,” said Drury. “They’ve put in all the work necessary and are following in the footsteps of teams before them. They are going to make mistakes, but they are also going to step up and rise to the challenge.”
Friday night’s challenge was forgetting about what was a dismal first half of offense. Southington, which finished with just 190 yards of total offense, looked like a team that hadn’t played high school football in 641 days.
Southington failed to gain a first down in the first half, and over the first 24 minutes of the game managed just 36 yards of total offense.
“At halftime, the coaches didn’t yell at the kids,” Drury said. “They knew they were better than that first half. They knew what they were capable of. They knew they had to better in terms of execution. Not having me out there hurt, but they adjusted and made plays.”
It was Southington’s defense that gave Barnum & Co. a chance. Nate Pierce, Austin Pszczolkowski, Kam Beaudoin, Brendan Coppola and Jackson Rusiecki each made big plays and held Maloney scoreless in the second half.
Southington’s special teams also came up with big plays.
In fact, the Blue Knights’ best weapon in that first half was punter Evan Anderson, who kept Maloney on its side of the field with one booming punt after another. Anderson averaged nearly 50 yards a boot, and his fifth punt of the first half sent the teams into halftime with Maloney up 7-0.
Another big special-teams play — this one with 7:01 to play — set up Southington deep in Maloney territory. Pszczolkowski blocked a punt and recovered the ball on the Spartans’ 20.
But after gaining just two yards on three plays, Barnum the kicker missed his FG. Barnum the QB, though, would get the last say.