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Killingly edges Branford, 13-12, in Class M semifinal

Killingly — There have been times at Killingly football practices this season in which the offense gets the ball 20 yards from the end zone and must score in one play against a defense that outnumbers them.

"We try to practice adversity a lot," Killingly head coach Chad Neal said. "(If) the other team wins the best-of-10, then you're doing up-downs and you're doing extra (work) on offense, and they hate it.

"You can see them get frustrated with each other at times, arguing with each other, but then you see the true colors sometimes of who is going to come through (in a game)."

Killingly was in dire straits for the first time all season in the fourth quarter of Sunday afternoon's CIAC Class M semifinal. It prides itself on running people over but kept getting stuffed by Branford and was failing to move the ball.

Killingly toughened up and toughed its way through trouble. Thomas Dreibholz threw a go-ahead 15-yard touchdown pass to Soren Rief with seven minutes remaining in the game and Killingly scraped past Branford, 13-12.

"We try to put our kids in situations in practice where they fail," Neal said. "We want them to fail in practice (to see) how are they going to respond in the game. That's what we do, we practice failure."

Killingly (11-0), ranked ninth in The Day of New London Top 10 state coaches' poll, moves on to its third M final in five seasons. It will play No. 2 Rockville on Saturday afternoon 3 at Veterans Stadium in New Britain.

The Rams (10-2) thrashed No. 6 Torrington, 42-12, in its semifinal.

Killingly hadn't been punched in the face (repeatedly) like it was by Branford on Sunday. It mowed down the Eastern Connecticut Conference and outscored teams by an average of 36.4 points through 10 games.

Killingly had smashed-and-bashed its way to an average of 256.7 yards rushing prior to Sunday.

The Hornets (9-3) held Killingly to 38 yards on 26 carries. They also had an edge in total yards (261-159) and didn't give up a first down in the third quarter.

"They were definitely the most physical team we've played this year," Rief said about Branford. "They were very physical up front and they dominated us for a little bit."

The Hornets' Zach Turbert threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open John Frawley to cut Killingly's lead to 7-6 with 5 minutes, 49 seconds left in the third. The extra point failed.

Killingly went three-and-out and punted on fourth-and-28 from its own 6-yard line.

Nate Chieffo ran 39 yards down to the Killingly 2 on first down. He finished with 119 yard on 17 carries.

Cole Snider scored on a 1-yard run two plays later with 2:40 remaining in the third. Branford's two-point conversion attempt was intercepted by Noah Colangelo.

Killingly had first-and-10 at its own 38 early in the fourth quarter when it went for the long ball — Dreibholz threw a pass into double coverage with Ben Jax making a leaping 41-yard catch.

Killingly faced fourth-and-4 from the Hornets' 15 and went for it.

Dreibholz rolled out to his right and threw to Rief who took it for a 15-yard touchdown. The extra point failed but Killngly led, 13-12, with 6:54 left.

"I faked like I was going to go block the d-end and he bit for it, and I was wide open," Rief said. "I caught the ball (and) the corner came down on me. I gave him a stiff arm. I wasn't going to be denied. I was getting into the end zone.

Dreibholz and Jax hooked up on 46-yard pass play to set up Rief's 2-yard touchdown run with 1:42 left in the first quarter.

Dreibholz completed 6 of 16 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns and Jax had three catches for 96 yards.

"We fought back through the air, and we got it done," Rief said.

Keith Perry had two sacks for Killingly and Alex Potapskiy intercepted a pass at his team's 35-yard line to end a Branford drive in the first quarter. Seth Dootson also recovered a fumble at the Hornets' 25-yard line with over six minutes left and Killingly ran out the clock.

"They handled adversity," Neal said. "The storm was coming from that side (Branford's), and we had to withstand that storm."

n.griffen@theday.com

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