NEWINGTON – Perhaps the best matchup in the entire Central Connecticut Conference will go down in Newington tonight between the Nor’easters and the Southington Blue Knights. Both sides are coming off 7-3 regular seasons in 2021 as well as a playoff berth for the Blue Knights.
Southington came in as high as No. 10 in the GameTimeCT Preseason Poll after receiving votes in the final poll from last season.
Quarterback will be a position to keep an eye on for both sides in this matchup. Newington is returning their star quarterback from a season ago in senior Padraig Brown. Brown is regarded as one of the best quarterbacks in the state this season after throwing for 2,212 yards, 30 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a 60.6 completion percentage in 2021.
“We’re excited to have him back leading our offense,” said Newington head coach Jason Pace. “He’s really a student of the game and understands our offense completely. We hold our players to a high standard and he’s a tremendous leader for us.”
Across the field will be junior CJ DiBenedetto taking over for Jack Barnum who graduated this past year. Barnum played each game for the Blue Knights in 2021 passing for 1,907 yards and 17 touchdowns. DiBenedetto saw action at quarterback in three games, passing for 81 yards and a touchdown.
“[DiBenedetto] has been doing a really good job this entire offseason and getting himself prepared to lead the offense,” said Southington head coach Mike Drury.
The Blue Knights are also replacing four members of their starting offensive line from 2021. Drury emphasized the importance of finding a way to put all these new offensive pieces together in the season opener.
Conversely, Pace and the Nor’easters believe one of their greatest strengths this season will be their returning senior class.
“We have 25-plus seniors on the roster and many of them had significant playing time last year, so they have experience,” said Pace. “They’ve been leaders on and off the field for us and we’re really excited for this senior class.”
Part of that senior class will be wide receiver Josiah Ross. In 2021 Ross racked up 61 receptions, 826 yards and 11 touchdowns alongside Austyn Howe who graduated this past year. The Nor’easters have 47 receptions, 801 yards and 14 touchdowns to replace in Howe’s absence, but Ross is certainly a great place to start in that department.
Junior Evan Anderson will be one of the weapons Southington has at their disposal this season. Anderson has the potential to be an impact player on both sides of the ball for Southington after a sophomore campaign with 96 receiving yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions to his credit.
“He’s all over the place for us right now,” said Drury. “He’s playing safety, receiver, punter - he’s a great athlete and can do almost anything on the field for us. We knew he was going to be a great player for us, and he’s really stepped us for us this camp.”
Anderson is a part of a defensive backfield in Southington that is as deep as they’ve had in a long time according to Drury. Senior cornerback Nick Bertola will also be one of the key pieces of their much-improved secondary this season. Their main goal is to limit big plays for Newington tonight.
Defense was an area that Pace thought the Nor’easters improved throughout the season in 2021, but they’re looking to make that one of the strengths of their program this year. Newington returned seven starters on that side of the ball and feel good about their ability to lead early in the season.
Each team specialized in scoring points in 2021 highlighted by Newington’s 38.3 average points per game and 30.5 for Southington. The Blue Knights’ stubborn defense from a season ago have their work cut out for them after allowing an average of just 14.1 points in 2021. Newington’s defense is looking to improve from a 29.4 average for opponents last season.
These schools have not faced each other since 2014, but Pace is excited to get the season kicked off against what could be the best team they’ll face all season.
“We’re looking forward to playing one of the better teams in the state,” said Pace. “They’re well coached, their guys know the system, and they play hard. So, we know the challenge that lies in front of us.”
Southington at Newington
When: Friday, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Newington High School
Records: Southington 0-0 (8-3 2021), Newington 0-0 (7-3 2021)
Last Meeting: Southington 27, Newington 0 (11/1/2014)
This game looks like it could come down to Padraig Brown against the Southington secondary. Southington has their work cut out for them trying to keep up with one looks to be one of the most productive offenses in Connecticut this season. The Blue Knights are replacing four players on the offensive line as well as their quarterback; growing pains might be in play tonight for Southington despite cracking the top-10 in the GameTimeCT Preseason Poll. Their defense will need to slow down Brown and Josiah Ross long enough for the offense to find their groove. An upset could be in play with some of the uncertainty surrounding the Blue Knights.
Cameron Beall’s Prediction
Newington 42, Southington 32