WEST HARTFORD — There is a phrase the Southington football team has uttered consistently since losing to Hall in Week 4.
“The only thing that can beat us is ourselves.”
Southington hadn’t yet faced Conard senior quarterback Israel Lopez.
Lopez scored on a 53-yard touchdown run with 31 seconds to play Friday night to lift the Chieftains to a stunning 31-24 victory over the Blue Knights. Lopez ran for nearly 200 yards and scored three of Conard’s touchdowns.
Southington (7-2) had one last chance to force overtime thanks to sophomore Evan Anderson, who returned the ensuing kickoff to the Conard 19. A penalty on Conard for unsportsmanlike conduct moved the ball to the 12.
But with 26 seconds to play, a Jack Barnum pass to Ryan DelMonte was broken up in the end zone. Barnum was then forced out of bounds scrambling at the 5 as time ran out and the Chieftains (4-5) stormed the field.
Lopez, a problem for Southington all night, scored Conard’s first touchdown on a 55-yard run and orchestrated his team’s 17-7 fourth quarter. Conard trailed 10-0 after the first quarter, 17-7 at halftime and 24-14 early in the fourth quarter.
Conard fell behind 24-14 when SHS running back Lincoln Cardillo scored his second touchdown run of the game with 11:13 to play.
Cardillo finished with 74 yards on the ground. Javon Thomas led the Blue Knights with 85 yards rushing.
Conard, however, came right back with a trick play after Cardillo’s second score, as Jack Kennedy hit Griffin O’Connell on an 80-yard halfback pass to make it 24-21.
Conard then tied the game on a 41-yard field goal with 2:16 to play before Lopez scored the game-winner.
Southington saw its four-game winning streak end. The loss was the Blue Knights’ first since falling at Hall 27-19.
Southington entered the game ranked No. 5 in the CIAC’s Class LL rankings. By the end of the night, they had dropped to No. 8.
The loss eliminated the Blue Knights from winning the CCC Tier 1 title. Southington will finish its regular season on Thanksgiving morning by hosting rival Cheshire.
Though ahead 17-7, the third quarter started inauspiciously for the Blue Knights. Conard intercepted Barnum (12-for-26, 110 yards) with 2:42 on the clock and Lopez would score five plays later on a 1-yard run.
The Blue Knights scored on their first three possessions and looked to be on cruise control up 10-0 after the first quarter on a 43-yard field goal by Barnum and a 1-yard run by Cardillo.
By halftime, it was 17-7, and two of Southington’s scoring drives took less than two minutes.
But Lopez kept things interesting. The Conard QB put the Blue Knights on their heels in the second quarter with his breakaway speed. He ran for his 55-yard touchdown to get the Chieftains within 10-7 with 8:37 to play in the half.
Southington needed just 1:35 to take a 17-7 lead with 6:58 to play in the half. Cardillo ripped off a pair of 10-yard runs and Barnum completed three straight bubble screens before tossing a 15-yard touchdown pass to Gavin Anderson.
Lopez got Conard to the Blue Knights’ 27 with just over two minutes before halftime. But on fourth down, the Blue Knights stuffed Lopez for a two-yard loss and took over with 2:29 to play.
Southington failed to move the ball on its next two possessions and the first half ended with Conard’s Mikus Jalinkas coming up short on a 42-yard field goal attempt.