SOUTHINGTON - For the New Britain football team, the difference between victory and defeat could be measured - literally. A couple of inches here on dropped pick six with no one around, a few feet there on a wide pass thrown to an open receiver in the end zone, another few inches on a muffed return on a kickoff.
The Hurricanes were close enough on a couple of plays, at least, to contemplate “what if” following their 42-20 loss at No. 2 Southington Friday night.
In a way, however, those close calls offered a fitting picture of what has been New Britain’s season, especially in each of its four loses.
“Same has previous weeks, it’s penalties,” Hurricanes head coach Tebucky Jones said. “We’re hurting ourselves with penalties and they don’t make mistakes. It’s not good and they’re getting the ball with good field position.”
“I told [the team] ‘every week we play, I don’t think [the other team is] better than us. We’re hurting ourselves.’”
Entering Friday, the Hurricanes had lost seven straight to the Blue Knights and nine of the last 10 - and left with another one tacked on in a game they had every chance to win and most likely should have. New Britain just turned out to be its own worst enemy.
The Hurricanes’ defense intercepted three Will Barmore passes, two in the first half by Jensen Cartagena, and was a presence in the backfield throughout, finishing with three sacks.
The offense, meanwhile, began moving the ball consistently behind running back Shawn Robinson on its second series - a 10-play drive capped off by 2-yard touchdown run from quarterback Jahfari Newman - and was trading touchdowns with Southington.
By halftime, the Hurricanes were down just eight, 28-20, and would get the ball to start the second half.
The muffed kickoff that resulted in a 2-yard pass from Barmore to Joe Koczera to make it 28-14 was the only thing separating the two teams.
Still, the confidence was there. And then, as the third quarter whistle blew, things quickly changed.
In the second half, that same defense was beset by big play after big play from Southington, while the offense generated just 55 yards and no points.
New Britain had four possessions over the final two quarters, with three of them ending in punts. The other ended in a turnover on downs. All four left the Blue Knights with a short field, and they capitalized to put the finishing touches on a game which should have been closer.
But it was the penalties Jones had pointed out that hurt the Hurricanes the most. New Britain was flagged 14 times throughout the night, which either killed its drives or extended Southington’s.
Either way, the Hurricanes had their chances and they knew it. They failed to take advantage while the Blue Knights did not and New Britain faltered down the stretch.
“We all came out here with the same beliefs that we’re going to win this game and went about it in the first half,” Newman said. “In the second half, things slowed down and it became a football game and in a football game, you can’t make mistakes. We were the team with the most mistakes.”
The struggles on both sides of the ball, particularly the offense in each of the past two weeks, have been both troubling and at the same time unsurprising.
The Hurricanes have been consistently inconsistent this season, often alternating between good weeks and bad ones. Southington just happened to highlight those areas a little brighter.
While Newman (5-for-18, 52 yards) and his receivers struggled to get on the same page Friday night, the running game continued to be a bright spot for the team.
New Britain outrushed the Blue Knights 150-83 against a defense that has allowed just 87 yards all season and -79 over the last three weeks. Robinson had 93 of those yards on just 12 carries. Muhammad Codjoe averaged 7.5 yards per carry.
“[The offensive line] opened up some lanes,” Robinson said. “There’s not really much to say. When the top guys got out and the second guys came up, they took care of it. We just got to finish, we’ve got to finish those big runs.”
Robinson even caught the attention of the Blue Knights’ defenders.
“I have so much respect for the kid,” Southington linebacker/running Ryan Montalvo said. “Every single time I ran for more than 10 yards, he was the first one to tackle me. He’s a hell of a player and their quarterback is good too.”
The Hurricanes’ season is more than halfway complete. They must win the rest of their games to finish with a 6-4 record, which would be their first in three seasons.
New Britain’s goal of reaching the playoffs became all but a lost cause after the defeat. Now the goals seem to be improvement, playing spoiler and trying to play sound football.
There is still a lot of football left and with games against Glastonbury, East Hartford, Enfield and finally Berlin and the Hurricanes would like nothing more than to finish on a strong note by winning out. But it will take some effort.
“We have to put this one behind us,” Newman said. “We just have to go into every week with a new mindset. We want to win, you can see it our guys faces. We want to win. We can’t allow there to be a piece that doesn’t allow us to win games.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @DavidGlovach