With a huge crowd in attendance on Thanksgiving, the Cheshire and Southington high school football teams ran onto the turf at Alumni Field with identical 8-1 records. After battling for three hours, it came down to a single yard and a half to decide the winner of the 24th Apple Valley Classic.
After scoring a touchdown in double overtime, CHS decided to try to win the game on a two-point conversion, but Southington kept senior Jason Shumilla out of the end zone on a quarterback sneak to clinch a 21-20 victory.
“It was a hard-fought game on both sides,” said Shumilla, a co-captain with senior Will Bergin. “We just came up a yard short.”
To start the second overtime, Southington took a 21-14 lead on a 4-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Brady Lafferty to junior Shane LaPorte. In what would be the decisive score, sophomore Jack Barnum made the point-after touchdown.
In being given a chance to match their rival, CHS found the end zone on a 16-yard touchdown pass from Shumilla to junior Nick DiDomizio.
“I knew that I could come up with that play,” stated DiDomizio. “I had faith in Jay to get me the ball.”
The Rams didn’t make the PAT but, since Southington was whistled for being offsides on the kick, the ball was moved up half the distance. Instead of kicking again, Cheshire decided to go ahead with the pivotal two-point running play, however, the Blue Knights plugged the middle gap of the line and held CHS just shy of the goal line to pick up their eighth straight rivalry win. Southington holds a 15-9 lead in the holiday series with Cheshire.
“We wanted to play to win the game (on the two-point play),” said Head Coach Don Drust. “I’m confident in our guys to get a yard and a half. They (Southington) have a good football team and you need to credit them for coming up with that play at the end.”
Defense was the story in regulation, with both teams only scoring once in the second quarter.
“We know how tough their defense is,” said Bergin. “This game was a battle. Nobody gave an inch.”
On the game’s opening drive, Southington moved the ball in nine plays to the CHS 15-yard line, but the Blue Knights were penalized for a false start on fourth down and then the Ram defense sacked Lafferty to force a turnover on downs.
After the rivals traded punts, CHS threatened at the end of the opening quarter. Sparked by a 22-yard run by senior Jake McAlinden, CHS reached the Southington 3-yard line, but the Rams were whistled for a false start and the Blue Knights forced a fumble on the ensuing run. Southington senior John Carreiro recovered the ball at the 6-yard line.
The Blue Knights capitalized on the turnover to strike first in the game. Just a minute and 39 seconds into the second quarter, senior Dillon Kohl ran for a 24-yard touchdown.
Down 7-0, the Rams responded on the ensuing drive. McAlinden broke free down the sideline on a 55-yard run to the 3-yard line. Three plays later, Shumilla ran for a 1-yard touchdown with 8:08 left in the second quarter.
“It was big to get in the end zone and tie it up there,” said Shumilla.
From there, junior Jotham Casey (CHS) and senior Carter Uhlman (SHS) took turns punting to end the first half in a 7-7 tie.
The teams moved the ball in the second half, but were unable to finish off drives. On the opening possession of the third quarter, Cheshire drove to the 22-yard line, but the Blue Knights tightened up on defense and CHS ended up missing a field goal.
Following a pair of punts, Southington was backed up at their 6-yard line, but Lafferty threw a 42-yard pass to senior Joshua Vitti. The Blue Knights reached the CHS 8-yard line, but Lafferty couldn’t control an errant snap and senior Colby Griffin recovered the ball for Cheshire with 23 seconds left in the third quarter.
“It felt really good to come up with that turnover,” said Griffin.
During the fourth, the Rams twice stopped Southington on fourth down. With 7:30 left, McAlinden and Griffin combined on a tackle to allow the Rams to take possession at their 41-yard line.
“Our defense was absolutely awesome,” said McAlinden.
In a career-high performance, sophomore defensive back Ben Wable made 15 tackles for CHS.
“We all played so hard,” said Wable. “I’m going to remember this game until the day I die.”
The Blue Knights tried to win the game in regulation, but Cheshire forced an incomplete pass on fourth down at the CHS 29-yard line with six seconds left. The Rams took a knee to bring on the first overtime game in Apple Valley Classic history.
CHS needed just one play to strike first in extra time, as McAlinden ran for a 10-yard touchdown. Southington came back with a 5-yard touchdown run by Kohl and then the Blue Knights finally came away victorious in the second overtime.
“It felt good,” said McAlinden, of getting in the end zone. “We left it all out there. I just wish we could have finished it (the game with a win).”
For Cheshire, McAlinden (Offense) and Griffin (Defense) were named MVPs. On the Southington side, Lafferty (Overall), Kohl (Offense) and Carreiro (Defense) received awards.
Before their final home game, Shumilla, Bergin, Sean Cangiano, Trevor DeLott, Jacob Dubois, Alec Frione, Ken Glover, Griffin, Thomas Graikoski, McAlinden, Paul Ponthempilly, Max Shafer, Jason Sinning, and Ricky Slowik were introduced to the crowd. Cheerleaders Jenna Smith (co-captain), Madison Fletcher, and Charlotte Steers were also honored on CHS Senior Day.
“Playing in front of all these people was the best part from today,” said Bergin. “They have supported us all year long. We have the best student section in the state.”
“Today was all about them (the seniors),” added Wable. “For everything those 14 guys have done for us, we wanted to win so much for them today.”
At halftime, Cheshire Junior Football eighth graders were honored for setting records for best overall mark (52-2-1) and total titles (five) in the Shoreline Youth Football Conference.
While falling in the regular-season finale, the Rams have reached the Class LL playoffs for the first time since winning the state title in 2009. On Wednesday, fifth-seeded Cheshire (8-2) visits fourth-seeded Simsbury (9-1) for quarterfinal action at 6:30 p.m.