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    Friday, September 30, 2022

    Missed opportunities hurt NFA in 35-22 loss to Southington

    NFA's Jawaun Johnson, right, makes a reception as Southington's Tyson Harris defends during the Wildcats' 35-22 loss in Tuesday night's Class LL state football playoff quarterfinals at Southington High School (Tim Martin/The Day)
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    Southington — Norwich Free Academy had its chances to take down unbeaten Southington on Tuesday night.

    Man, did it have its chances.

    There was the heave Wildcats quarterback Shea McManaway threw across midfield to senior Isaiah Price, who had gotten behind his defender. Price couldn't haul in the pass.

    There was NFA blitzing its way down the field to start the second half training by 14 points. Senior R.J. Darby fumbled the ball away at the Blue Knights' 4-yard line.

    And there was Southington's last touchdown drive. It converted on third down three times. Vance Upham ran for a 6-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal to ice the game.

    It was those kind of situations which led to Southington's 35-22 win over the Wildcats in a CIAC Class LL football playoff quarterfinal.

    Fifth-seeded NFA (8-3) didn't lose because it wasn't good enough. It lost because of execution.

    "It was difficult," McManaway said. "We kept digging ourselves into holes. Like coach (Jemal) Davis was just talking about, we had two big plays that could've happened, but simple mistakes. ... That's what got us."

    Davis said, "Were right there. Were right there."

    It was the third time in four seasons that fourth-seeded Southington (11-0) beat the Wildcats in the LL playoffs.

    The Blue Knights earned themselves a rematch at top-seeded Darien, the No. 1 team in The Day's Top 10 state coaches poll, in next Monday's semifinals. The Blue Wave downed No. 8 Greenwich, 29-3. Darien mauled Southington in last year's Class LL semifinals, 41-7.

    NFA gave the Blue Knights their toughest game of the season. They had won their 10 regular season games by an average of 35.5 points. Its closest game was a 47-21 rout of East Hartford (Nov. 4).

    "NFA did a great job," Southington head coach Mike Drury said. "I thought (McManaway) did a great job. Obviously (Jawaun) Johnson is a dynamic player. But I was happy with the resiliency our guys put forth in the second half."

    McManaway executed the run-pass option like a champ. He ran 16 times for 81 yards and a touchdown and completed 17 of 25 passes for 223 yards and two scores.

    Johnson made the Blue Knights hold their breath every time the ball came his way. The senior had 10 catches for 174 yards and a score and was beastly at inside linebacker.

    Upham was once again a bull for Southington as he ran 35 times for 225 yards and two touchdowns.

    Will Barmore completed 9 of 19 passes for 174 yards with three touchdowns and an interception for the Blue Knights.

    NFA trailed 28-14 at halftime and came out throwing on its first drive. McManaway threw to Johnson for a 22-yard pass on the first play of the half. McManaway and Johnson followed with a 36-yard pass play.

    The Wildcats had third-and-2 from the Southington 8 when Darby got to the 4 and fumbled. The Blue Knights' Sean Scanlon recovered the ball.

    "That's what happens when you have a young man playing his heart out like R.J.," Davis said. "Things are going to happen. We're proud of his effort."

    NFA got the ball back with over six minutes left in the third quarter when McManaway began to fluster the Blue Knights with the run-pass option. He ran for 5 yards on first down. Johnson made a tremendous leaping catch for a 23-yard gain to the NFA 39 on third-and-5.

    Darby and McManaway ran for 9 and 12 yards, respectively. McManaway followed with an 18-yard touchdown to Caleb Parker.

    Johnson ran in the two-point conversion to cut Southington's lead to 28-22 with 4:26 remaining in the third quarter.

    Parker's interception gave NFA the ball at the Blue Knights' 43-yard line to start the fourth quarter.

    The Wildcats were flagged for 5 yards before they could run a play. Robert Bunting and Upham combined on a sack for a 3-yard loss on first-and-15. NFA went three-and-out.

    Southington got the ball back at its own 21 with 10:15 remaining and ground its way downfield. It faced a third-and-7 from its own 35 when Barmore was forced from the pocket and scrambled for a 9-yard gain.

    Upham carried the Blue Knights on that drive, too. He ran 10 times for 66 yards. The last was a 6-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal that put Southington ahead, 35-22, with 4:20 left.

    "I think we sent a statement this year," McManaway said, "but we lost in the playoffs, and everyone wants to win it all."

    n.griffen@theday.com

    NFA's Caleb Parker (10) catches a touchdown pass ahead of Southington's Shaun Wagner during the second half of Tuesday's Class LL state football playoff quarterfinal game at Southington High School. Wildcats lost 35-22. (Tim Martin/The Day)
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    NFA's Michael McCormack (12) consoles teammate Logan Gooden after the Wildcats were eliminated by Southington 35-22 in Tuesday night's Class LL state football playoff quarterfinal game at Southington High School. (Tim Martin/The Day)
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