On Thanksgiving, the 26th Apple Valley Classic provided a suspenseful finish at Cheshire High School. Facing a 21-0 deficit, CHS football (6-4) used two touchdown runs from junior Matt Jeffery to stage a rally, but the Blue Knights (9-1) held on to win 21-14 in the regular-season finale.
SHS looked to be in control after three quarters, but Cheshire battled back in the fourth. On his team’s first scoring drive, Jeffery made a pair of key catches in the middle.
Southington pushed the Rams into a fourth down, but Jeffery was able to break outside for a 4-yard touchdown to snap the shutout with 7:02 remaining.
In following up with an onsides kick, senior Connor Moran recovered the ball for the Rams. CHS had another fourth down at their 45-yard line, however, sophomore quarterback Aniston Marsh threw to senior Luke Wiedemann for an 11-yard gain.
Cheshire picked up a first down after Southington was called for pass interference in guarding senior co-captain Charles Kurtz. After catching two passes from Marsh, Jeffery dove into the end zone for another 4-yard touchdown run with 4:12 remaining.
The Rams defense stopped SHS in three plays to force a punt, but on the ensuing drive, Cheshire’s momentum was stalled by two penalties. CHS decided to go for it on fourth down,
but Southington junior Rashard Williams made an interception and ran down to the CHS 3-yard line. From there, the Blue Knights ran out the final two-and-a-half minutes to earn their 10th straight win (17-9 lead) in the holiday series.
The Blue Knights jumped ahead for good on the game’s opening drive. In moving 80 yards, Cardillo carried the ball on 11 of 14 plays. CHS tightened up inside their 10-yard line, but Cardillo still found the end zone on a 4-yard run. Since the Blue Knights didn’t make the point after touchdown, they led 6-0.
On the next drive, Cheshire countered with the running and receiving skills of Jeffery, who lined up at quarterback, running back, and receiver.
CHS reached the SHS 29-yard line, but the Blue Knights stood tall and forced the Rams to turn the ball over on downs.
Soon after, Southington threatened after a reception by junior Aiden Halpin, but Cheshire took the ball back on an interception by senior co-captain Michael Simeone at the 16-yard line.
CHS responded with another promising drive. Jeffery made a 12-yard reception and SHS received a personal foul on the play.
Cheshire had a first down at the Southington 20-yard line, but the Blue Knights stopped them over the next four plays to take the ball back on downs.
Southington extended their lead with 36 seconds left in the second quarter, as junior quarterback CJ DiBenedetto found Williams for a 25-yard touchdown. DiBenedetto also connected with Cardillo for a two-point conversion to put the Blue Knights up 14-0 at halftime.
Southington put up their final touchdown with 3:30 left in the third quarter. Utilizing play action, DiBenedetto hit Cardillo for a 28-yard touchdown in the middle.
The Rams rallied with Jeffery’s touchdowns in the fourth, but fell short.
Following the game, Jeffery (Offensive) and senior defensive lineman Brett Rochford (Defensive) were announced as Cheshire’s game MVPs. Cardillo (Overall), DiBenedetto (Offensive), and senior Luis Matias (Defensive) were Southington honorees.
Scoring summary is listed below.
*4-yard touchdown run by Cardillo (6:06) 6-0, SHS
PAT by Cardillo was no good
*25-yard touchdown pass from DiBenedetto to Williams (36 seconds) 14-0, SHS
Two-point conversion pass from DiBenedetto to Cardillo
*28-yard touchdown pass from DiBenedetto to Cardillo (3:30) 21-0, SHS
PAT by Cardillo was good
*4-yard touchdown run by Jeffery (7:02) 21-7, SHS
PAT by senior Micah Galloza was good
*4-yard touchdown run by Jeffery (4:12) 21-14, SHS
PAT by Galloza was good
In a pre-game senior ceremony, Simeone, Kurtz, Michael Bowman, Anthony Distante, Galloza, Thomas and Tyler Hayden, Denes Lulo, Moran, Rochford, Rome Smith, Ben Thompson, Lazaro Torres, Drew Vagts, Wiedemann, Riley Wilson, and Michael Wynn were introduced before their final home game. Cheerleading tri-captains Audrey Bronson, Alexis Martin, and Ava Simeone joined the players on Senior Day.
During the coin toss, it was announced that Athletic Director Steve Trifone would be retiring at the end of the school year. Trifone became the AD in 2003.
At halftime, CHS recognized a pair of teams. Cheshire Junior Football seventh graders won the Shoreline Youth Football Conference crown this year, while Rams boys’ soccer won the state title (Class L) for the first time since 1988.
Also today, Jeffery (wide receiver), Rochford (defensive line), and Simeone (defensive back) were named as All-SCC Tier I for football.
Unofficially, the Rams have qualified for the Class L playoffs as the eighth seed. For the quarterfinals next Tuesday, Cheshire would travel to face top-seeded St. Joseph (9-1).
This story will be updated with comments.