Defense lifts Southington past Ridgefield
SOUTHINGTON — Points, as expected, were precious.
In a Class LL quarterfinal playoff game featuring two of the state’s best defenses, second-seed Southington held on for a 13-9 victory over seventh-seed Ridgefield on Wednesday evening at Fontana Field.
The Blue Knights (10-1) will now host third-seed Darien in the semifinals Monday night back in Southington.
Wednesday’s quarterfinal came down to one last stand for Southington’s defense. After Ridgefield closed within 13-9 on Owen Matthews’ 8-yard touchdown pass to Gianni Gorham with 7:39 left to play, the Tigers got the ball back at their own 39 when Cameron Smith sacked Southington quarterback Brady Lafferty on a fourth-down play.
Ridgefield (8-3) converted one fourth down to keep its drive alive, but a sack and two incomplete passes left the Tigers facing a fourth and 14 from the Southington 32-yard line with 53.2 seconds remaining. Matthews threw a pass into the end zone that fell incomplete, and the Knights were able to take a knee and run out the clock.
“Defensively, we got gritty and played tough,” Southington coach Mike Drury said. “We knew that Ridgefield was a good team and that it was going to be a close game. We had opportunities to score and left points at the goal line, but our defense made some big plays.”
“I just knew it was going to be a close game,” Ridgefield coach Kevin Callahan said. “Both teams have good defenses, and the final score reflected that.”
Ridgefield took a 3-0 lead on Adam Biernat’s 30-yard field goal with 39.1 seconds left in the opening quarter, but Southington went ahead 7-3 when workhorse running back Dillon Kohl scored from five yards out with 2:05 left the first half.
On Southington’s previous possession, Kohl was stopped just short of the goal line by Ridgefield defensive lineman Jack Dowd on a fourth and goal from the 2-yard line.
“We were able to adjust a little to what they were doing on defense,” said Kohl, who gained 122 yards on 30 carries. “We could have scored a few more points, but the main thing was to get the win and advance.”
After each team made interceptions to start the third quarter, Southington used a 32-yard pass play from Lafferty to Joey Vitti to reach the Ridgefield 5. Two plays later Lafferty connected with Carter Uhlman for a touchdown, and the Knights had a 13-3 lead (the extra point was no good) with 4:44 left the period.
On the first play of the final quarter, Ridgefield tried some trickery on fourth and eight from the Southington 32-yard line. Punter Declan McNamara (the team’s backup quarterback) rolled right and threw a pass that was incomplete.
More mysteriously, the Knights then opted for a fake punt of their own. With a fourth and nine from Southington’s 33, Uhlman took the long snap and attempted to run for a first down. He was stopped well short, and Ridgefield capitalized on the unexpected present, trimming its deficit to 13-9 on Gorham’s TD catch.
The Tigers had one more chance to rally for a victory, but Southington’s defense came through when it mattered most.
“It came down to two evenly matched teams,” Callahan said. “Someone had to win, and, unfortunately, it wasn’t us.”