SOUTHINGTON - Even as the heat beat down on the turf field, the Southington football team couldnâ€™t contain its excitement.
After a longer-than-usual offseason, one that saw the Blue Knights miss the postseason for the first time since 2011, Week 1 couldnâ€™t have come fast enough. Southingtonâ€™s quest to get back to another Class LL state title game officially begins tonight.
â€śEverybodyâ€™s excited, Iâ€™m excited,â€ť senior Jacob Drena said. â€śWe had a good offseason, a good week of practice. I think everyone is ready to hit someone in a different color and itâ€™s Glastonbury so itâ€™s always going to be a good game, a rivalry-type thing. So itâ€™s time to go.â€ť
On the field, however, it hasnâ€™t been much of a rivalry as of late. The Tomahawks did not provide much of a challenge a season ago in which the Blue Knights won 34-7. The year before in 2016, Southington won 35-0.
Glastonbury, though, will look to bounce back after a 3-7 season in 2017. The Tomahawks return a large majority of their starters from a year ago, especially on offense.
Drew Daniels, the head coachâ€™s son, is back for his third season under center and will have three offensive linemen returning. Southington will also have to keep an eye on running back Matthew Tenney, considering the Tomahawksâ€™ affinity for running the football, as well as a trio of receivers in Andries Ramirez, Freddie Thomas and Brandon Valdez. Tight end Peter Morrisroe is also expected to be a factor.
Overall, it could pose an interesting test for a Blue Knights defense that allowed 13.3 points per game last season and is replacing eight starters, including its entire linebacking corps and three quarters of its secondary.
â€śItâ€™s a different group of guys, but weâ€™re tight as ever,â€ť said senior safety Matt Thompson, one of the unitâ€™s starters from last year. â€śWeâ€™ve been working on our chemistry and as long as weâ€™re having fun out there, we can figure most things out. We havenâ€™t had a lot of problems integrating [the new starters]. They were just backups behind seniors last year. That doesnâ€™t mean they were as good or were less skilled.â€ť
Offensively, Southington will have to contend with a Glastonbury defense that likes to bring pressure, which will be an important test for Drena who will be making his first varsity start at quarterback. He attempted eight passes last season and also saw time at receiver and tight end.
â€śTheyâ€™re a tough team,â€ť Drena said. â€śWe just have to attack their weaknesses. I think our offense is going to thrive against them. Our offense is going to thrive against everybody, but they play a press-man and I think our receivers are going to do well. But theyâ€™re always a solid team.â€ť
Â Blue Knights head coach Mike Drury believes his new quarterback is more than ready for challenge, especially with all the work Drena put into the offseason to get back into the quarterback role.
â€śHeâ€™s really gotten himself into the mental part of it and understanding the offense,â€ť Drury said. â€śThatâ€™s a key piece of it, understanding what weâ€™re looking at, what weâ€™re trying to accomplish schematically and now we just want him to keep improving. Heâ€™s in charge and we want him to know that. As the quarterback, heâ€™s the leader of the offense and heâ€™s done a good job of stepping into that role.â€ť
Of course, Southington knows it will come down to how well it is able to execute its game plan and play what it likes to call its brand of football. But that doesnâ€™t mean the Blue Knights arenâ€™t heading into the season confident.
â€śI think we expect to put up points on offense and not allow many points on defense and do what we do every year and beat them,â€ť Drena said.
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org