CIAC FOOTBALL: Southington holds off Ridgefield in Class LL; next up: Darien

CIAC FOOTBALL: Southington holds off Ridgefield in Class LL; next up: Darien

SOUTHINGTON — Once again, the Southington football team leaned on its defense. As a result, the Blue Knights are headed to the Class LL semifinals.

Southington beat Ridgefield 13-9 in the quarterfinals Wednesday night, stopping a late Ridgefield drive to advance to Monday’s semifinals.

Ridgefield got to the Southington 28 before being stopped on fourth down by the Blue Knights.

Southington improved to 10-1. Ridgefield finished the season 8-3, with its other two losses coming to defending Class LL champion Greenwich and this year’s Class L top seed, St. Joseph.

“Hey, this is it: semifinals. Survive and advance,” Southington head coach Mike Drury said. “We’ll see who it is and starting working tomorrow.”

Monday’s night’s foe will be a familiar one. Darien beat defending Class LL champion Greenwich on Wednesday night 26-16 to set another postseason matchup with Southington.

This time, however, the Blue Knights will host the Blue Wave.

Darien beat Southington in the 2015 and 2016 Class LL semifinals. The Blue Wave also beat Southington in Week 2. All three of those games were played in Fairfield County.

Since this season’s loss at Darien, the Blue Knights have won nine straight games and rose to No. 2 in the Class LL playoff rankings after beating Cheshire 21-20 in double overtime on Thanksgiving. Southington is in its seventh postseason in the past eight years.

Southington is still playing thanks to its defense. The Blue Knights led 13-3 before allowing the Tigers to score midway through the fourth quarter. Ridgefield missed the ensuing PAT.

Southington got the ball back with 6:05 to play after Ridgefield muffed a punt, but quarterback Brady Lafferty was sacked on fourth down, setting up the Tigers’ final drive with 4:28 to play.

Ridgefield quarterback Owen Matthews, who heated up in the second half and finished 21-of-34 for 184 yards and a touchdown, hit his first two passes of the drive to get the Tigers to the Southington 35. Another completion by Matthews set Ridgefield up at the Blue Knights’ 28.

But Matthews was sacked by Max Casella to put the Tigers behind the chains. Matthews then missed on his next three passes, the third coming on fourth down from the Southington 32, as he threw into triple-coverage in the back of the

Southington end zone with 45 seconds to play.

“We know we have a great defense,” said Southington defensive back John Carreiro, who was one of the three Blue Knights in coverage on Ridgefield’s final play. “All year, the hype has been about our defensive line and linebackers stopping the run — and they have been great all year — but the DBs haven’t really been tested. It was great that our guys got tested today and I’m so happy we came through when we had to.”

Carreiro had one of two Southington interceptions in the second half. The other was by Weston Brick in the end zone with 4:12 to play in the third quarter.

Those picks helped the Blue Knights avoid last year’s quarterfinal fate, when they led Fairfield Prep 21-14 going into the fourth quarter only to fall 28-21.

“That was huge by our defense,” Drury said. “We made some mistakes, some errors that put our guys in a tough spot.

“We left points on the field (in the first half) and we can’t do that. I talked to the guys about that. We can’t do that. We have to be better.”

After trading interceptions, the Blue Knights took a 13-3 lead with 4:44 to play in the third quarter on Lafferty’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Carter Uhlman.

Southington senior running back Dillion Kohl led all rushers with 122 yards on 30 carries. Lafferty was 14-of-22 for 124 yards and a TD.

The first half was spent on the Ridgefield side of the field, but the Blue Knights couldn’t crack the Tigers’ defense until a little over 2 minutes remained in the half. Ridgefield took a 3-0 lead in the first quarter, but Kohl gave the Blue Knights a 7-3 lead with a 5-yard touchdown run with 2:05 before the break. The TD capped off an eight-play, 58-yard drive that saw Kohl run the ball five times for 22 yards.

The big play of the drive was a 19-yard catch and run by Ulhman, who took a slant pass from Lafferty and ran across the field until finally pushed out of bounds at the Tigers’ 15.

Trailing 3-0, Southington started the second quarter by driving to the Tigers’ goal line. But on fourth down, Kohl was stopped a half-yard from the end zone on a fourth-and-goal from the 2.

Ridgefield was held to 36 yards rushing. Graham completed 5 of 14 first-half passes, but outside of his toss to Kai Prohaszka, he was held in check. Ridgefield had a total of 87 yards in the first half.

The Tigers, however, took advantage of the only turnover of the first half and led a 3-0 lead on Adam Bienat’s 30-yard field goal with 39 second to play in the first quarter.

Shane LaPorte fumbled stretching for a first down after catching a Lafferty pass. The Tigers recovered at their own 49. A 36-yard pass from Matthews up the seam of the Blue Knights’ defense to Prohaszka put Ridgefield at Southington’s 15.

The Blue Knights, however, allowed only a 2-yard run by Prohaska ahead of two incomplete passes and Bienat’s field goal.

The last time Ridgefield and Southington met was in the 2013 Class LL semifinals. Southington routed Ridgefield 45-0 en route to its Class LL crown in 2013. Ridgefield was back in the playoffs three years after losing to Darien in the 2016 Class LL final.