You can't spell 'Southington' without 'T-O-U-G-H', Chris Everone and his grounds keeping commandos, STORYTIME, and 1,734 other words
It was just the sixth offensive play of Thursday's CIAC Class LL final when Southington defensive back Stephen Barmore waylaid Fairfield Prep tight end Andrew Ostrosky.
Note that Barmore plays quarterback, too.
(Yes, a quarterback set the tone for Blue Knights' defense.)
Southington's defense physically manhandled the more brawny Jesuits in the second half of the LL championship. That, in turn, allowed the offense to score 38 points that half as the Blue Knights rallied to thump Fairfield Prep, 52-34, and win the program's second CIAC state title at Ken Strong Stadium.
"I do like playing defense," the Yale-bound Barmore smiled. "I do like hitting people. I don't get a chance to very much because I'm usually pretty much a safety net in the back, but, yeah, hitting people, I definitely like it."
Southington coach Mike Drury said, "Steve is one of the strongest kids on our team, let's put it that way. He's a 385-pound bencher. He's no weakling. So we know he's a physical kid. He set the tone there."
One of the talking points prior to the LL final was that Prep was bigger than the Blue Knights. Like, much bigger. It had offensive tackles A.J. Palazzolo (6-foot-5, 305 pounds) and Michael Ruther (6-7, 286). Yale-bound fullback Nick Crowle is 6-3, 246.
"The tackle who was on me looked like he was 300 pounds," Southington defensive lineman Zach Maxwell said (and he was).
The Blue Knights had, let's say, mortal-sized players. Their defense was led Thursday night by the likes of linebacker Zak Jamele (5-8, 195) and defensive linemen Matthew Koczera (5-11, 195) and Maxwell (6-2, 210).
The heart is a muscle, though.
"We just rely on our speed and our pursuit to the ball, and that's what we've done all year," Maxwell said. "Our motto is '11 hats to the ball, relentless pursuit.'"
Quarterback Colton Smith, Crowle and the Jesuits ran 24 times for 189 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. They led, 28-14, at halftime.
"We just told our guys (at halftime), 'we're not going to stop,'" Drury said. "'We have to be tenacious. We have to be ferocious. We have to get to the ball. We have to continue our pursuit,' all of that good stuff."
It's one thing to tell defenders to fill the gaps and play tough.
It's another thing to expect defenders to hang in there when 270-pound linemen and a 246-pound fullback are constantly trampling them.
"We knew how big those guys were," Drury said. "We play with leverage. We play low. They're (Prep) a great team. Our guys just kept on it and played the game that we've been playing all year. They dug in. They weren't giving up."
The Blue Knights' defense stuffed Prep's offense in the second half. Southington allowed 31 yards on 15 offensive plays in the third quarter.
The Blue Knights' offense took advantage. Barmore threw touchdown passes of 60 and 4 yards to Alex Jamele to tie the game, 28-28, late in the quarter.
Smith scampered 70 yards on the Jesuits' first offensive play of the fourth quarter. It set up Crowle's 7-yard touchdown run to put Prep back ahead, 34-31, with over nine minutes left in the game.
The Jesuits had three more drives the rest of the game.
Southington allowed just 54 yards on 20 plays.
All three Prep possessions ended in an interception.
Matthew Thomson returned the first one 30 yards to the Jesuits' 30. It set up another Barmore to Alex Jamele touchdown pass.
Barmore had the second pick of the half. He returned it for a 67-yard touchdown.
Zak Jamele added an interception with seconds left in the game.
"They're big boys, and we knew coming in that they were huge," said Barmore (two interceptions). "(We had to) play our type of defense, which is fast, physical and swarm to the ball. And we did that in the second half."
Prep coach Tom Shea said of the Blue Knights' defense, "They stiffened their backs. …. Hats off to them. They just kept pouring it on. It seemed like it was just one extra guy we couldn't block each time."
Koczera had a game-high 8 solo tackles and 12 overall for Southington.
Jamele (10 tackles) and Maxwell (eight tackles) also showed why they should be first team on every Connecticut all-state team.
"Zach Maxwell, he can play anywhere on defense," Drury said. "We put him down, his hand in the dirt a little bit. He's the fastest kid on our team. He's able to make plays. He's also the number one wrestler in (Connecticut) in his weight class (he's the 195-pound State Open champion). A kid like that, 300-pound guys, they're at a disadvantage sometimes because he plays so low and plays with leverage.
"Zak Jamele in the middle there, he's not some towering guy. …. He's our leading tackler this year (126 tackles). He's just strong, ferocious, and always at the ball."
• • • •
Coaches were scheduled to gather this week to assemble both the Walter Camp and Connecticut High School Coaches' Association all-state teams.
Man, we hope both committees waited until after the Class LL final because Barmore made his case for first-team quarterback LOUD and clear.
Barmore completed 22 of his 33 passes for 346 yards and four touchdowns with one interception. He also ran for a 1-yard touchdown in addition to his 67-yard interception return.
It was an incredibly good year for quarterbacks (and running backs) statewide. Jordan Vazzano was among the many reasons St. Joseph won a state title. There were also Ty Ebdon (Ledyard), Tanner Kingsley (Woodland), Vincent Gambino (Wolcott), Tom Honyotski (Hall), Jake Kasuba (Foran), Danny Maranda (New London), UConn-bound Logan Marchi (St. Paul), Jalen Ollie (Glastonbury), Nick Roberts (Trumbull), and Phil Cohen of the Valley Regional/Old Lyme WARRIORCATS. And that's just the cats that threw for over 1,800 yards or more.
And then there were the runners. One very successful head coach raved about Barlow's Jack Shaban and said that the Falcons were the best "pure" triple option team he'd seen in 20 years. Gatorade Player of the Year Dario Highsmith had over 3,650 yards of total offense and 36 touchdowns for Middletown.
There were also dual threats such as Nick Cascione (New Canaan), Silas Wyper (Darien), Michael Kreiger (Derby), Mark Piccirillo (Shelton), Jack Massie (Staples), and Smith.
We just listed 19 quarterbacks. Get the picture?
(Are we forgetting anybody? PROBABLY.)
Barmore threw for 3,088 yards with 42 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 13 games.
There were a few quarterbacks who passed for more yards and threw more touchdowns (Kingsley threw for 3,613 yards with 45 touchdowns).
There were a few dudes who averaged more passing yardage (Marchi averaged 322 yards, tops in the state based on information provided to MaxPreps.com).
Barmore shined all season AND played his best during his team's biggest game of the season.
He's a pretty good defensive back, too.
Be remiss if we didn't mention Southington receiver Alex Jamele. He finished with 79 catches for 1,623 yards for a robust 20.5 yards a catch. He also set a single-season state record for touchdown receptions (29).
(That's a pretty good football family, dem Jameles.)
• • • •
One more time — the folks at West Haven deserve crazy amounts of kudos for the job they did getting Ken Strong Stadium ready to host the Class LL final after TWO snowstorms.
TO REVIEW — the championship was originally scheduled for last Saturday night at Arute Field at Central Connecticut.
What followed were a wacky amount of rescheduling. The game was moved up to Saturday afternoon due to the threat of snow, then postponed to Sunday afternoon at Ken Strong due to snow, then postponed to Monday night at Ken Strong due to icy conditions, and, finally, to Thursday night at Ken Strong due to icy conditions.
It was up to Chris Everone, West Haven High's facilities manager, and his merry band of grounds keeping commandos to get Ken Strong ready for the game.
Think it's easy getting a facility ready? You're loco.
Everone began clearing the snow off the field on Saturday afternoon. And then it began to rain and turned everything to ice.
Everone returned to Ken Strong at 1 IN THE MORNING on Sunday to begin working again.
"Saturday night, I didn't sleep at all," Everone said. "I was up looking at the clock saying, 'oh, man. Look at the snow, look at the snow.'"
Everone was at Strong for 12 hours. West Haven baseball and hockey players also showed up that afternoon to help shovel out the stands.
To paraphrase one player, "I wouldn't want to finish as co-champion. That isn't right."
The place still needed work on Monday, which led to another postponement.
"Then it snowed (five inches) on Tuesday," Everone said. "That was wonderful."
Everone and company spent another eight hours on both Wednesday and Thursday getting the place in tip-top shape. That doesn't include the man-hours they spent during and after Thursday's game. Or the hockey game Everone had to work Wednesday.
Everone also rented a sweeper to brush the field, which, along with the sun, helped dry it.
Someone with cash needs to buy Everone and company steak dinners. That and book them separate soundproof hotel room (with catering) so that they can get a good night's sleep.
• • • •
STORYTIME (CLASS LL EDITION)
• • • •
FINAL CONFERENCE SCOREBOARD
NVL (two teams, two finalists, one champ): 5-1 (Ansonia beat league-mate Woodland in the Class S final).
FCIAC (four teams, three finalists, two champs): 9-2 (One of the losses was due to FCIAC-on-FCIAC action — New Canaan beat Darien in the Class L final).
SCC (four teams, one finalist): 4-4 (that includes Fairfield Prep beat West Haven in the Class LL semifinals).
CCC (eight teams, one finalist, one champ): 6-7.
SWC (four teams, one finalist): 3-4 (including a SWC-on-SWC battle).
Pequot (four teams): 1-4.
CSC (three teams): 0-3.
ECC (three teams): 0-3.
• • • •
Buddha willing, the FINAL Day Top 10 state' coaches poll will be unleashed Friday.
• • • •
That's all for now. Hope to have more Saturday.
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