SOUTHINGTON — For the first time in seven years, the Southington football team took the field Friday night as the No. 1 team in the state.
The Blue Knights looked the part under the bright lights of Fontana Field.
Southington scored less than two minutes into the game and was never seriously challenged in the CCC Tier 1 matchup. Lincoln Cardillo’s three touchdowns and 246 all-purpose yards led the way in a 37-9 rout of Simsbury.
Cardillo scored a pair of 2-yard touchdown runs in the first quarter and finished the game with 159 yards on the ground. The senior also caught a pair of swing passes and rambled 97 yards after the catch.
Southington improved to 4-0, while Simsbury fell to 1-3. It was the Blue Knights’ 12th straight win over the Trojans.
Unlike a week ago, it was Southington that broke out to a big lead and led 28-0 at halftime. At Greenwich, the Blue Knights rallied from a 21-0 deficit after one quarter to knock off the then-No. 1 Cardinals, 29-28.
“We did some good things, but did some things we need to clean up,” Southington head coach Mike Drury said. “We kind of got off the gas a little bit in the second quarter and made some errors you don’t want to do when you’re up on a team.
“We are going to have the X on our backs every week, and we are going to have to defend it,” added Drury.
Southington led 14-0 on Cardillo’s runs.
The first came on Southington’s opening drive. After Simsbury tried to surprise the Blue Knights with an onside kick to start the game, Cardillo carried the ball on six of seven plays and gained all 49 yards. He capped things off with a scoring plunge 1:43 into the game.
The Blue Knights led 14-0 with 5:38 left in the opening quarter on Cardillo’s second TD. The senior finished the first quarter with 93 yards on 13 carries.
“It was a game that we felt we needed to prove we deserved the No. 1 spot,” Cardillo said. “We definitely have a bigger X on our backs now that we are the No. 1 team in the state.
“People (already) circle us on the schedule because they want to beat Southington,” Cardillo added. “Now they have us circled twice because we are No. 1 and they want to beat us even more.”
The game was stopped for nearly 30 minutes in the first quarter due to a Simsbury player being medically attended to on the field. He left in an ambulance and both teams were allowed to warmup again with 3:37 left in the first period.
After the delay, Southington made it 20-0 with 15 seconds left on the clock when C.J. DiBenedetto hit Evan Anderson on fourth down for a 15-yard touchdown.
DiBenedetto finished the game 9-of-20 for 176 yards. He was intercepted twice.
Anderson caught three passes for 59 yards. Kam Beaudon had four catches for 50.
Southington made it 28-0 with 2:16 to play in the half on a 17-yard touchdown run by Marco Testa. The 56-yard drive was highlighted by a 44-yard catch-and-run by Cardillo to the Trojans’ 17.
While the offense was putting up points, the SHS defense was shutting out the Trojans.
Simsbury managed to get into SHS territory just once, advancing to the Blue Knights’ 28 early in the second period. But the Trojans went backwards from there and turned the ball over on downs four plays later.
In all, Simsbury punted five times in the first half and also fumbled on its first possession.
The Trojans avoided a shutout with a 43-yard field goal by Daniel Sullivan with 6:21 left in the third period.
Southington, however, came right back to score on its first possession of the second half. Cardillo ran it in from 2 yards with 1:57 to play in the third quarter for a 35-3 Blue Knights’ lead.
Simsbury found the end zone on the first play of the fourth period, while the Blue Knights didn’t punt until just over 10 minutes remained in the game.
Friday night was a chance for the Blue Knights to take a deep breath and step back into CCC play after the buildup and fallout from its dramatic win at Greenwich last Saturday.
Southington earned one of the program’s biggest wins in beating Greenwich in an Alliance matchup. Down 21-0 in the first quarter, SHS rallied to knock off the Cardinals – a win that propelled SHS to No. 1 in the latest CT Gametime poll of media voters.
While Friday night was an easy win, the Blue Knights face several challenges down the road in the regular season. Southington still has to play Windsor (2-2) and at Falcon Field against unbeaten Maloney.
The Spartans improved to 4-0 on Friday night with a 41-14 win over Hall. Maloney, which won the Class L state title a year ago, hasn’t lost since falling in Week 1 of last season at Southington.
Southington’s regular-season also ends on Thanksgiving Day with its traditional matchup with Cheshire. The Rams improved to 4-0 with a 28-0 win over Hand on Friday night.
The Blue Knights are back in action at East Hartford next Friday night before returning home for back-to-back games against Windsor and Glastonbury on Oct. 21 and Oct. 28.