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FOOTBALL: No. 9 Blue Knights suffer back-to-back losses for first time in 12 years

WEST HARTFORD — Win or lose, a cold, wet, rainy Friday night was going to be miserable for the Southington football team and its faithful fans who made the trip to West Hartford.

Making matters worse, however, was a waterlogged Southington football team leaving Hall High School 9-6 losers in a CCC Tier 1 contest.

The 9th-ranked Blue Knights, losers of consecutive regular-season games for the first time since 2011, never led in a game that kicked off in a downpour and finished with SHS falling to 2-2.

Hall improved to 3-1.

Joe Griffin’s 29-yard field goal in the third quarter provided the winning points after the teams entered halftime tied 6-6. 

Southington’s vaunted offense, which had averaged 426 total yards over its first three games, never got going in a continuous rain that had soaked the Hall turf field prior to the 7 p.m. kickoff. 

Slipping and sliding all night, SHS managed less than 200 totals yards.

The Blue Knights also committed a pair of costly second-half personal fouls that derailed promising drives when the SHS offense found some traction.

“We were very, very undisciplined,” Southington head coach Mike Drury said. “We had some critical penalties — major errors that we cannot have. The kids know that.

“You have to keep those drive alive and you can’t have big negative plays or things like that,” Drury added. “We were doing things outside of what we do. The guys understand that and we have to bounce back.”

Friday’s loss came on the heels of Southington’s 34-27 Week 3 setback to Staples. It was also Southington’s lowest-scoring single game since its 24-8 loss at Darien in 2019.

The last time the SHS football team lost back-to-back regular-season games was in Weeks 6-7 of 2011 at Glastonbury and at Hall. That season, Drury’s first as head coach, the Blue Knights finished 6-4.

Friday night, Southington tied the game 6-6 with 26 second to play in the half on C.J. DiBenedetto’s 26-yard touchdown pass to a sliding Blake Stephens in the corner of the end zone. Like Hall had done earlier, the Blue Knights failed to convert the PAT.

Then, after the Titans took the lead midway through the third quarter on Griffin’s field goal, the Blue Knights immediately drove to the Hall 30 on the ensuing drive. It was the deepest SHS had penetrated the Hall side of the field since its second drive of the game stalled at the Hall 10.

But after gaining a first down, the Blue Knights were hit with a dead-ball personal foul that not only pushed them back to the Hall 40, but put Southington well behind the sticks. And after a dropped screen pass on second down, DiBenedetto’s deep pass was intercepted on 3rd-and-22 inside the Hall 10.

“I take partial responsibility for that,” DiBenedetto said of the personal foul called on another Blue Knight. “It’s my job to break that up (and) just move on to the next play.”

Southington’s final chance to take the lead came with 5:43 left to play and the rain finally letting up enough to allow the Blue Knights’ passing game to get going.

DiBenedetto hit Chris Totonis with a 14-yard screen pass. Rashard Williams then scampered 11 yards on fourth down to the Hall 46. 

Then, on fourth down, DeBenedetto and Williams appeared to have finally hooked up on a deep sideline pass completion inside the Hall 20. But officials ruled Williams had stepped out of bounds on the play while running his route, making him ineligible to catch the ball.

The play was ruled an incomplete pass, allowing Hall to all but run out the clock.

SHS got the ball back at its own 27 with 21 seconds to play, but DiBenedetto was sacked and then threw incomplete as time ran out.

DiBenedetto came into the game leading the state with 1,083 passing yards. But he never got on track in conditions that didn’t favor Southington’s passing offense.

DiBenedetto finished just 10-of-27 for 94 yards. It was clear from the start that the elements would play a role in his and the SHS offense’s struggles.

DiBenedetto managed to complete just one of his first seven passes, and 53 of his 62 first-half passing yards came on the Blue Knights’ final drive of the half that ended with the TD pass to Stephens in the end zone.

Drury, however, wasn’t about to blame the wet conditions for his team’s lack of execution on offense.

“Listen, it wasn’t the weather,” a drenched Drury said. “We were able to throw the ball effectively; we didn’t run the ball well enough offensively.”

Despite Drury’s words, what had worked so well through three games this season wasn’t clicking Friday night.

Williams, DiBenedetto’s top target this season, was held in check by the Hall defense. Williams made just two catches for 19 yards. He came into the game as the state’s top wide receiver with 567 yards born of three straight 100-plus yard receiving games.

Williams never got loose in the Hall secondary. His biggest contributions, actually, came out of the backfield when he lined up next to DiBenedetto.

Williams carried the ball eight times for 41 yards. Totonis led SHS with 61 yards rushing.

It was Southington’s second loss in three years to Hall and second straight defeat on the Titans’ turf.

“I would say both defenses played great and we were fortunate enough to get that field goal, and that was obviously the difference,” said Hall head coach Frank Robinson, who has coached the Titans for 25 years. “Obviously (SHS) is extremely well-coached and talented, but we feel we are close and here we are. We made it.”

The Titans took their initial lead on senior quarterback Bode Smith’s 29-yard touchdown run with 6:21 left in the first half.

Smith was instrumental in Hall’s only serious scoring drive in the first half. Also serving as the Titans’ punter, Smith turned a punting situation into a 28-yard run on fourth down when he alertly took off with the ball when SHS appeared poised to block the punt.

Smith’s run set up Hall at the SHS 38.

Two completions later, Smith took off again with the ball after faking a handoff and broke three tackles down the sideline for 6-0 Hall lead.

After Smith scored, Hall’s ensuing squibbed kickoff hit a Southington player and the Titans recovered the ball. The Blue Knights, however, kept the Titans off the scoreboard when Derek Chulli recovered a Smith fumble on fourth down.

Taking over at his own 36, DiBenedetto and the SHS offense finally got on track.

The Blue Knights went on an 11-play drive that covered 64 yards. DiBenedetto was 3-of-6 on the drive for 53 yards. His pass to Stephens evened things with 23 seconds remaining in the half. 

After a 3-and-out and punting on its opening possession, SHS turned to its running game to drive down to the Hall 10-yard line. 

Williams carried three straight times out of the backfield for 26 yards, while a pass interference call set SHS up on the Hall 15-yard line. But Southington failed to score on fourth down when DiBenedetto overthrew Stephens in the end zone.

“We didn’t execute; we have to be able to punch it in,” Drury said. “We have to do a better job, and we are going to figure it out as a staff and a team.”


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