PLAYOFF FOOTBALL: Two-touchdown lead doesn’t hold for Southington in New Canaan

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NEW CANAAN — After a strong start against No. 2 New Canaan, Southington football’s season came to an end with a 38-14 loss in the Class LL quarterfinals on Tuesday night at Dunning Field.

No. 7 Southington (8-3) held a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter. Then it was all New Canaan (10-1) as the host Rams scored 38 unanswered to advance to Sunday’s semifinals, where they’ll host FCIAC rival No. 3 Darien.

Tuesday’s quarterfinal was tied 14-14 at the half. Southington struck for the first two touchdowns of the contest before the hosts rallied to tie the game by the break.

Southington out-gained New Canaan 247-211 in the opening half.

Southington quarterback Jack Barnum was spot-on for the Blue Knights, completing 18 of 24 for 186 yards in that first half.

Both of Southington’s scores, though, came on the ground. On the first scoring drive, Evan Anderson grabbed a 28-yard reception that set up Barnum’s 6-yard TD run with 2:07 to go in the first quarter.

Barnum booted through the PAT as the Knights went up 7-0.

Southington's Jared Guida stalled New Canaan’s next drive with a sack that forced a punt.

The Blue Knights then went on a 12-play drive. Justin Zitofsky hauled in a 39-yard reception from Branum that set up Javon Thomas for a 4-yard TD run as Southington went up 14-0 with 8:08 to go in the second quarter.

Southington coach Mike Drury praised the play of the Southington offensive line, particularly in the first half.

“We were playing great,” Drury said. “We were playing the way we wanted to play against them: with tempo and run game and quick game and get the ball on the perimeter quickly.”

New Canaan got on the board as Barrett Schmitz grabbed a 20-yard TD reception from Henry Cunney with 6:31 left in the second quarter.

Following a Southington punt, Mack Seelert broke free down the left sidline for a 20-yard TD as the Rams tied the game, 14-14, with 3:36 remaining in the first half.

Southington then fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Rams took over at the Southington 27. That was the first of three Southington turnovers on Tuesday.

On this first one, the Blue Knights defense held and forced a Tyler Groff 44-yard field goal attempt that fell just short with 2:24 to go in the first half. An illegal man down field penalty erased a big play on the drive for New Canaan.

The second half was all Rams. They outscored Southington 24-0 in the final 24 minutes.

New Canaan took its first lead of the game on the first possession of the first half. Vincent Cognetta capped the drive with a 12-yard TD run with 8:38 to go in the third as the Rams went up, 21-14.

Southington went three-and-out on the next drive and the New Canaan offense was back in business. Seelert caught a pass for 31 yards on third-and-long. That set up a Conor Bailey 1-yard TD run with 3:20 left in the third that made it 28-14 New Canaan.

Southington then fumbled its second kickoff of the game. Carter Connors jumped on it for the hosts.

Eventually, the turnover led to a Tyler Groff 38-yard field goal with 11:48 to go in the fourth as the Rams went up, 31-14.

“We gave them extra possessions on our side of the field,” Drury said. “We needed to get back to that rhythm we had in the first half.

“You can’t turn the ball over against a team like that. We got ourselves in horrific down-and-distance situations and you can’t do that against one of the top defenses in the state.”

Back-to-back sacks by New Canaan’s Ned Brady and Barrett Schmitz stalled Southington’s next drive, as the New Canaan second half was filled with defensive highlights. Hunter Telesco scored on a 1-yard TD run with 4:58 left in the game to expand the Rams’ lead to the final 38-14 margin.

Christopher Bopp capped New Canaan’s strong night with an interception with 3:08 to go.

“We were sleepwalking when we first came out here — I could feel it — after such a big win on Thanksgiving,” said New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli, referring to the Rams’ 12-7 rivalry victory over Darien. “We were flat and got smacked around and the kids responded, and I can’t tell you how proud I am of them.

“(Southington) is a good football team and they are as well coached as any team in the state,” Marinelli added. “Mike and his dad and his staff are first class and have done a tremendous job. I just think we had too much in the passing game, which we haven’t had in a while.”

Drury said he was proud of his team and the season it put forth. This playoff trip was Southington’s eighth in Drury’s 10 seasons at the helm.

“These guys carried the torch of Blue Knight football and it didn't end the way we wanted it to end,” he said. “The seniors were great leaders and set the example. We had an off year last year and we needed the senior leaders to step up this year and they did.”

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