SOUTHINGTON — It’s hard to imagine a better outcome than Friday night for the Southington football team and its senior class.
In their final regular-season game at Fontana Field, the Blue Knights (8-1, 4-0) dominated New Britain (3-6, 0-4) with a 42-0 victory that wrapped up their sixth straight undefeated CCC Division I West championship and clinched their seventh Class LL state playoff berth in eight years.
“It’s important,” Southington head coach Mike Drury said of his team playing so well toward the end of the season. “Our focus this week was totally on New Britain to get the conference championship outright. That’s a goal of ours every year.”
Yet while Senior Night ended in celebration, it was a bittersweet affair.
“It felt great, but all of us seniors, we were kind of dreading this day,” said wide receiver Carter Uhlman. “We love playing. This last day, we came to play. 42-0, our defense played lights out.”
The Southington defense was spectacular in pitching its second straight shutout. The Blue Knights allowed New Britain inside the red zone just once all night. They yielded just 79 yards rushing and 60 yards passing.
Southington’s offense, meanwhile, was devastating through the air. Junior quarterback Brady Lafferty, gaining traction with each successive game, completed 21-of-30 passes for 266 yards and four touchdowns.
“Brady stuck in there and played lights out,” Uhlman said. “All of our receivers ate. It was great. We ran the ball nice at the end, too.”
Two of Lafferty’s four scores went to Uhlman, who finished the night with five catches for 72 yards.
The second score to Uhlman was an absolute dime that capped a 92-yard two-minute drill right before halftime.
“We practice that a lot,” Uhlman said. “We have a competition against our varsity defense and we have a two-minute drill so we have to practice getting out of bounds. That really helped. [Josh Vitti] caught, like, four balls and got out of bounds. It was great.
“That play that we drew up at the end [of the half] was really just to take a shot at the end zone. Brady threw it off his back foot because he had pressure and it was an absolute dot.”
Vitti also caught a touchdown, but was first and foremost the chain-mover. The senior finished with 10 catches for 92 yards. He was Lafferty’s go-to guy in third- and fourth-down situations.
“At first, we read all week that they were going to play man-to-man on us and press up on us,” Vitti said. “We designed multiple different schemes for that. Brady read his keys. He dotted up all night tonight.”
Uhlman and Vitti have led the way all year for a Southington passing attack that has seen some shifting behind center. Lafferty won the job in preseason, but by the middle of the season was splitting time at QB with wide receiver Shane LaPorte. After LaPorte suffered a hand injury, it was Lafferty’s job exclusively and he’s run with it.
“He’s developed; he’s really developed as the year’s gone on,” Drury said. “Getting comfortable within the pocket and seeing it. He’s a tough kid. He sticks in the pocket and he doesn’t get jittery. He does a great job of sticking in there when guys are bearing down on him and putting the ball where it needs to be. It just shows you that he’s tough.”
For the season, Lafferty is now 124-of-200 for 1,643 yards and 22 touchdowns.
Uhlman (50-559) and Vitti (44-500) have been the leading targets. Jack McManus (17-264) and Jake DelMonte (14-218) have also been integral to the passing game and LaPorte, prior to his injury, had 15 catches for 211 yards.
“I think that if you look at it, all of our receivers made plays tonight catching the football in all different situations and key situations,” Drury said. “These guys work extremely hard every day. They’re excited for their opportunities.
“We tell them, the four or five of you who are going to be out on a route at any given time, we may rep that and they may never be the primary guy during a certain concept, but all of a sudden during the game they are. That happened a few times tonight and they stepped up and made big plays.”
Against a physical New Britain team, Lafferty was able to hang in and deliver throws to open receivers all night. And once the Blue Knights got going, there was no stopping them as they got out to a 28-0 first half lead.
“Our execution: We like to move fast,” Vitti said. “When we move fast, we’re dangerous and teams can’t keep up. It showed on the field tonight.”
Vitti and Uhlman spent the summer getting reps in with all the potential quarterbacks. Now, with the annual Apple Classic looming on Thanksgiving Day against a potent 8-1 Cheshire team, the chemistry with Lafferty is at an all-time high.
“Vitti and I all offseason were working with Brady,” Uhlman said. “We didn’t know who the quarterback was going to be, so we worked with all of them. It just shows now how much work we put in every week. Multiple hours of just running routes and catching balls from him.”
Drury was happy with the energy that his team played with against New Britain. With the shutout, the defense hasn’t yielded a point since Simsbury scored a touchdown in the first quarter in Game 7. That’s a span of 11 quarters.
At No. 4 in the Class LL playing rankings, the Blue Knights are in line for a home game for the quarterfinals.
It will take a win on Thanksgiving to earn it. Cheshire is No. 3 in the Class LL points with a chance to clinch a berth this Friday at home against Harding. Should that come to pass, Cheshire and Southington will be playing for a home quarterfinal when they clash at Alumni Field on Thanksgiving morning.
“You want to be playing your best football this time of the year,” Drury said. “Now we can shift gears and start preparing for Cheshire.”