NEW BRITAIN — Southington was 94 seconds away from losing to New Britain for the first time in a decade on Friday night.
Less than a minute later, the Blue Knights had all but wrapped up a victory.
Quarterback Jacob Drena engineered a six-play, 80-yard drive that began with 1 minute, 34 seconds left in regulation and ended with Tanner LaRosa’s 4-yard touchdown run with 36 seconds remaining, and Southington, ranked 9th in the GametimeCT/New Haven Register Top 10 poll, held on for a come-from-behind, 27-24 victory at Veterans Stadium.
“I told the guys all week, we’re not losing this game,” Drena said. “I just cleared my head, ran the plays I knew I could run, get the ball to my guys and we punched it in.”
New Britain (4-1) led 18-7 at halftime thanks largely to the running of star back Shawn Robinson. However, after completing just 3 of 17 passes for 46 yards in the first half, Drena came alive in the second. When he hit Jacob Flynn for a 21-yard touchdown pass with 4:41 left, Southington (5-0) led 21-18.
But the Hurricanes responded with a nine-play, 76-yard drive, highlighted by a 35-yard hook-up between Tahje Yopp and Miguel Maldonado with 1:48 left.
Two plays later, Yopp trotted in from 15 yards out, and New Britain was back on top.
Southington began its final drive on its own 20 yard-line.
“I thought back to practice with the two-minute competition we have,” said Drena. “This week, we happened to beat the defense. So, I imagined that’s our defense out there. I mean I don’t like those guys as much as our defense, but … just throw the ball, and it’s our game to win.”
After misfiring on his first pass, Drena hit Jame Lamson for 10 yards, Will Downes for 12, Lamson again for 20, then Downes for 26 to the New Britain 4.
LaRosa punched it in to give the Blue Knights the lead for good.
“Honestly, that probably was the clearest my head was all game,” Drena said of the game-winning drive. “I went out there, I trusted Coach’s play calls, trusted my line, my receivers. I threw the ball, I knew they could get it. That catch by Jamie was insane, then Tanner runs it in. It’s what we expect. When it all comes together, it just feels awesome.”
“You can’t be deflated,” added Southington coach Mike Drury. “You have confidence to be able to get it done on the field. You’ve got to say, ‘Alright, how are they gonna attack us? What are they doing? What are some things we can manufacture to make sure we get guys to make plays?’ But ultimately, it came down to the players out there. They made plays when they had to. We can just do so much as coaches. All those guys have to go out and do it. I’m proud of them, the way they responded.”
Yopp hit Maldonado on a 14-yard connection on New Britain’s first play of its last-ditch drive, but the Hurricanes weren’t able to get past midfield.
“That was a great game, one of the best games I’ve been in,” said Drena. “It just feels great.”
Drena wound up completing 13 of 18 passes for 178 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the latter half. He connected on 12 of the final 14 passes he threw.
“Honestly, I was running around a little scared at the beginning of the game,” he reported. “I had to get my head clear. When that last drive came in, it just set in: ‘It’s time to go.’”
Downes caught six balls for 85 yards and Lamson had five grabs for 66 yards. Downes also had an interception.
New Britain had built its 18-7 halftime lead despite committing a rash of costly penalties. Shawn Robinson gained 107 yards on 18 carries in the first half and scored the game’s first touchdown, a 12-yard run on the Hurricanes’ first drive.
Southington countered with a 48-yard scoring drive that was kept alive by a pair of crucial New Britain penalties — a pass interference on third-and-5, then a roughing-the-passer on 3rd-and-15. LaRosa capped the drive with a 1-yard plunge.
A holding penalty midway through the second quarter negated what would have been a 29-yard scoring run by Robinson, but Robinson still managed to find the end zone three plays later on a 10-yard run.
Yopp capped the first-half scoring by connecting with Dashawn Clark on 4th-and-5 for an 11-yard pass with just 15 seconds left in the half. A long kick return by Southington’s Angelo Plantamuro, coupled with another New Britain penalty (facemasking) gave the Blue Knights one more shot from the Hurricane 35. But Drenna’s pass fell incomplete.
Robinson wound up rushing for 151 yards on 29 carries, but New Britain suffered a tough setback when Kaiyon Gunn, the other half of the Hurricanes’ “Thunder and Lightning” backfield, left the game for good with an injury late in the first half.
Southington has won the last 10 meetings between the schools.
SOUTHINGTON 27, NEW BRITAIN 24
Southington 7 0 0 20 — 27
New Britain 6 12 0 6 — 24
NB – Shawn Robinson 12 run (kick blocked)
S – Tanner LaRosa 1 run (Evan Johanns kick)
NB – Robinson 10 run (run failed)
NB – Dashawn Clark 11 pass from Tahje Yopp (run failed)
S – Jamie Lawson 16 pass from Jacob Drena (Johanns kick)
S – Jacob Flynn 21 pass from Drena (Johanns kick)
NB – Yopp 4 run (kick failed)
S – LaRosa 4 run (Johanns kick)