MANCHESTER — It was neither pretty nor easy, but in the end it was another victory for the Southington Blue Knights, who improved to 3-0 Friday night with a 31-13 CCC Division I crossover decision against Manchester.
Quarterback Jacob Drena threw three touchdown passes — two to Carter Uhlman, one to Tanner LaRosa — and Johnny Carreiro returned an interception for a score as the Blue Knights led from wire to wire.
Manchester (0-3) did have its moments. The Indians scored at the end of the first half and at the start of the second to trim a 21-0 deficit to 21-13.
However, a 25-yard field goal by Evan Johanns, followed by Drena’s second TD strike to Uhlman, had the lead restored to 31-13 before the quarter was out, and the Blue Knights were on their way to their ninth win over Manchester in as many years despite an uneven performance.
“Well, it was a win; guys overcame,” said Southington head coach Mike Drury. “We were sloppy and didn’t execute the way we wanted. It’s tough because we execute well in practice all week. We have some guys that things are still coming with them. Very talented group, but we gotta get out there and put it all together.”
For the third straight game, Southington fumbled the opening kickoff only to make the recovery. A couple of penalties also kept the offense from settling into an immediate rhythm.
Still, the opening possession ended with success as Drena connected with Uhlman for a 33-yard score. Uhlman, who was productive last week against Simsbury, beat two defenders down the sideline.
Southington’s defense fed the momentum. On Manchester’s second play, Carreiro picked off Logan Tomlinson and took it back for a touchdown. Just like that, the Blue Knights were up 14-0.
The defenses kept the score there heading into the second quarter. Southington defensive linemen Ryan Gavronski and John Miller were active in the trenches, stuffing the run up the middle and getting pressure on the quarterback. Miller got a sack before the half.
Drena, meanwhile, pushed the lead to 21-0, finding a wide open LaRosa down the middle for a 48-yard touchdown.
With less than a minute before half, Drena was picked off by Treyshawn West and the Indians turned that into points. Tomlinson hit Jaheim Carr down the sideline for a 41-yard touchdown with 11 seconds left in the half to cut the score to 21-7.
“Our offense has to step up,” Drury said. “We keep putting our defense in that kind of situation at the end of the half. We have to execute, run the ball, things like that. Make sure next time we are in that situation, we don’t do that.”
Manchester came out the half with that momentum and marched down the field on its first possession. Tomlinson used his legs the majority of the drive, but also made the crucial passes, like a 25-yarder into the red zone. The Indians punched it in on a short run by their big lineman, Eric Tann, to pull to within 21-13.
The swing was palpable. Southington could not get much going on its first offensive drive and, later in the quarter, Drena was intercepted again.
The Blue Knights would weather the storm as they made Manchester punt after the turnover.
Southington’s run game was stuffed most of the time, so the Blue Knights used their air strike to get the chains moving. On a fourth-and-5 in Indian territory, Drena found Will Downes to keep the drive alive in the fourth quarter. This led to the Johanns field goal and a 24-13 lead with 8:38 minutes left.
Southington quieted the Manchester crowd with another touchdown from Drena to Uhlman to push the lead to 31-13 with 5:55 to go.
The defense also picked up its play and stifled Manchester’s offense, preventing the Indians from generating any more big plays like they did at the start of the third quarter.
“I thought the defense did a good job being ahead of the downs,” Drury assessed. “I through we made some good plays offensively, too. It’s just stringing them together and executing.”
The Blue Knights will look to make it 4-for-4 when they return home next Friday to host Hall at 7 p.m.