After five days and three postponements, the Connecticut Class LL state championship game was finally played. Whether it was the postponements, holiday traffic or just a chilly night, the crowd was late arriving. Fairfield Prep, on the other hand, was raring to go from the opening whistle.
Like the crowd though, Southington’s highly decorated offense took a little time to get going. Once it did, the momentum was too tough to stop for the Jesuits.
Southington rallied from two touchdowns down at the break to knock off Fairfield Prep with a 52-34 victory. The Blue Knights scored 38 points in the second half and allowed the Jesuits just one trip to the end zone in the final two quarters.
“We kind of had our way with them in the first half, but hats off to them. They poured it on, and defensively it seemed like there was one extra guy we couldn’t block each time,” Fairfield Prep coach Tom Shea said. “They might’ve had some guys hitting different gaps (in the second half), but we just didn’t block them.”
While the Southington defense limited Fairfield Prep in the second half, the offense’s turnaround was equally impressive.
The Blue Knights scored on all five second-half possessions including four touchdown passes from Yale-bound quarterback Stephen Barmore. Three of those touchdowns went to junior wide receiver Alex Jamele who finished with 10 catches for 230 yards. He added three more scores to his single-season state record of 29 touchdown receptions. The last one was the backbreaker.
With a 38-34 lead, Barmore tossed one up to Jamele in double coverage. The superstar receiver leapt over the defenders and snatched the ball away from them over the top for a 20-yard score with just 3:48 to go. He also scored on an incredible 60-yard catch and a four-yard touchdown reception.
“The problem with a team that good with players that good is little missteps are going to be cashed in and that’s what they did to us,” Shea said. “If you’re a step too late, they’re going to turn that into six. He’s a tremendous ball player and a quarterback of that caliber can’t be allowed to sit back there and throw.”
If Jamele’s leaping grab was the backbreaker, Barmore finished Prep off with the dagger. On the ensuing drive, with Prep rushing to get two scores, Barmore stepped in front of a Colton Smith pass and returned it 67 yards for the game’s final touchdown. He finished the day with two interceptions on defense and completed 22 of 33 passes for 346 yards and four touchdowns. He also ran for a touchdown in the first half.
“I’ve never had a pick six before and that feeling is not really comparable to anything else,” Barmore said. “This is going to hit me hard tomorrow. It’s so awesome that we won and it’s an honor to play with a group of guys that I consider my brothers.”
Fairfield Prep jumped out to a 14-7 lead with a pair of Colton Smith touchdown runs. Bruising running back Nick Crowle broke free for a 53-yard score to open the second quarter, running over defenders in the process to open the lead up to two scores. He had 126 yards rushing at the break on 13 carries, but added just 50 more in the second half. He had 26 carries for 176 yards and two touchdowns. Smith added 163 yards on 19 carries and two scores. He also hit John DelliSanti for a 31-yard touchdown to give the Jesuits a 28-14 lead heading into the break.
“There’s no good explanation for what happened, they just beat us,” Crowle said. “They stopped our run game in the second half, and we couldn’t do anything. They just made more plays than we did tonight.”
Those plays came immediately in the third quarter to get Southington back in the game. After a quick stop to open the third quarter, it took just two plays for the Blue Knights to cut the deficit in half with Jamele’s 60-yard catch and run. After Prep went 3-and-out, Barmore and Jamele went back to work. This time they hooked up for 42 yards during the drive, and then a 4-yard touchdown strike to tie the game.
It was a tough loss to swallow for the Jesuits who expected to execute enough in the second half to keep pounding Southington, but despite the loss, this still ended as one of the great seasons in years at Fairfield Prep.
“This one hurts because the kids did everything asked of them and worked so hard. We’ve been in playoff mode since Week 6 and beaten some very good teams, but to get this far and lose is tough,” Shea said. “We tell the kids that anytime you step into the arena you have to understand that you can lose. If you’re not man enough to lose, then don’t play. We just ran out of solutions tonight.”
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