— Dan Nowak (@NHRDanNowak) December 5, 2019
SIMSBURY — The way the Cheshire football team dominated in the first quarter of its matchup with Simsbury in the Class LL quarterfinals, it looked like the Rams were on their way to a big finish.
They took a two-touchdown lead after the first quarter. But that was the first quarter. The fifth-seeded Rams were plagued by mistakes the rest of the way and the Trojans took advantage.
John Mairano scored two touchdowns, including the go-ahead score, and Zach Gilbert made a game-saving interception with 1 minute, 27 seconds to go to lead No. 4 Simsbury to a 17-14 win at Holden Field.
It was the first playoff victory for Simsbury in five tries, including two state finals in 1993 and 1994, the final years before the CIAC added playoff rounds. The Trojans advance to the semifinals and will face host No. 1 Newtown, a 35-0 winner over NFA, on Monday at 6:30 p.m.
“This is a huge win for the entire program,” Mairano said. “This was a big moment for me and I’m used to big moments winning championships as a wrestler. The offensive line opened big holes for me, I just followed my blockers on both touchdowns.”
In the first quarter, the Rams scored on their first possession with a combination of running and passing. The seven-play drive culminated with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Colby Griffin with 5:17 to go. Jotham Casey’s kick made it 7-0.
Fantastic ending out at @SimsburyTrojans between the Trojans and Cheshire. What a way for Simsbury to get their first-ever postseason win! Next up: top-seeded Newtown. @ciacsports #cthsfb @WFSBnews pic.twitter.com/dPULP33sd9
— Elliott Polakoff (@ElliottPolakoff) December 5, 2019
The Rams drove 61 yards on its next possession, capped by a Shumilla 22-yard touchdown pass to Alec Frione with 3:14 to go in the first quarter. Casey’s kick made it 14-0 and that was the score when the quarter ended.
In the second quarter, the Trojans had the ball fourth and goal on the Cheshire 4. Simsbury went for it and was stopped on the Cheshire 1. The Rams took over and on the first play McAlinden was tackled in the end zone for a safety to trim the leas to 14-2 with 7:34 remaining.
The safety was a momentum changer as the Trojans scored touchdowns on their next two possessions in the second quarter to take the lead.
Mairano scored on a 5-yard touchdown run with 2:45 left in the second quarter and Jeffrey Coleman’s kick trimmed the Rams lead to 14-9. Mairano followed that up with an 8-yard touchdown run with 1:32 to go in the second quarter to give the Trojans their first lead at 15-14. Brendan Gaffney’s 2-point conversion run provided the final points of the game.
— Simsbury Gridiron Club (@SGCBoosters) December 5, 2019
The Rams had their chances to score in the second half including a late drive the last two minutes of the fourth quarter. But on third down and 11 to go at the Simsbury 16, Gilbert intercepted Jason Shumilla’s pass in the end zone and the Trojans would run out the clock to secure the win.
“We made some uncharacteristic mistakes that hurt us,” Cheshire coach Don Drust said. “Bthe effort our guys was tremendous. The second half we came out and played better and we had chances but we couldn’t finish.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
John Mairano, Simsbury: Scored two touchdowns including the game-winning touchdown.
“The second quarter was big for us. It was a roller coaster ride the entire game with ups and downs.”—Simsbury coach Dave Masters