PLAINVILLE - Leading by six with less than two minutes to go in the fourth quarter of Thursdayâ€™s regular season finale against rival Farmington, the Plainville football team needed its defense to come up big to seal a win and a trip to the Class S state tournament, especially with the Indians facing a first down at the Blue Devilsâ€™ 11-yard line.
It was an intense and dramatic series, especially with the season on the line, but it was just how Plainville wanted it to go.
Through the first nine games of the season, the Blue Devils had relied heavily on their defense, and they were fine to do it again on Thursday, even when the stakes were a little higher.
So on fourth down at their own 4-yard line, Plainvilleâ€™s defensive front stopped Farmington running back Finn Sposato after just a 1-yard gain, and after the Indians got the ball for a last-gasp effort with under a minute left, the Blue Devils went right back to work on defense, sacking quarterback Jacob Conrad before forcing an incompletion on fourth down to secure the programâ€™s biggest win in recent memory.
For Plainville, the last two defensive stands served as a fitting summary of what the season as a whole has been like for a Blue Devils team that finished the regular season with an 8-2 record, after going 0-10 just three years ago.
â€śEvery game thatâ€™s been tight and weâ€™ve won, itâ€™s because of the defense,â€ť junior outside linebacker Tanner Callahan said. â€śWe work so hard at it in practice and just love to be on the field.â€ť
Callahan was a big part of the defenseâ€™s clutch performance earlier in the game, when an early Farmington drive was halted by Callahanâ€™s interception deep in Plainville territory. Christian Collin came away with a pick of his own at the start of the second quarter, keeping the Indians off the board and helping the Blue Devils mount a 14-0 lead, which proved to be crucial as the rest of the game unfolded.
â€śWe put up a great fight,â€ť Collin said of the defensive effort. â€śWe wouldnâ€™t want it any other way than to play all 48 minutes.â€ť
Itâ€™s been that way all year for Plainvilleâ€™s defense, which entered its regular season finale allowing just 15.5 points per game, which was drastically inflated due to an outlier performance against Class S powerhouse Bloomfield, which routed the Blue Devils 47-0 on Oct. 4. Take away that game, and the Blue Devils were allowing just 11 points per game.
Since that lopsided loss, the 21 points to Farmington are the most the defense has given up, helping the team win five of its last six games to lock up a spot in the state tournament.
â€śThatâ€™s our mentality, that defense wins games,â€ť Collin said. â€śThatâ€™s what weâ€™ve been relying on lately, and it worked out.â€ť
A lot has gone into the Plainville programâ€™s drastic turnaround under head coach Tim Shea, but improvement on the defensive end has been one of the most decisive factors.
The Blue Devils allowed 20 points per game last year and 25 points per game in 2017, as the scoring prevention has steadily improved over that span. Not surprisingly, so has the teamâ€™s win total, and it has culminated in a state tournament appearance.
â€śItâ€™s one of the three phases,â€ť Shea said. â€śWe made an effort to get better in all three phases, and this is one of those things. We worked very hard to improve on defense this year.â€ť
Defense was the focal point of the teamâ€™s desired improvements this past summer, and it paid off through the season and all the way to the thrilling finale, when two clutch stops completed a historically memorable moment for the Blue Devils and the home crowd that endured the chilling wind to celebrate the win.
It was the defense that sparked the celebration, which it has done for the entire season.
â€śStaff-wise, we actually practice more defense than we do offense,â€ť Shea said. â€śBut the kids believed, and thatâ€™s all you can ask.â€ť
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or email@example.com