SOUTHINGTON — To understand how Southington football’s defense operates, one only needs to look at a drill the players ran during Wednesday’s practice in the rain at Fontana Field.
The players start in a single line across the end zone area of the field, then take off toward a designated coach while running on an angle. For the Blue Knights defense, it’s about getting as many players to the ball carrier as quickly as possible.
“It’s always about 11 kids to the football every play,” senior captain and linebacker Matt Thomson said.
The name of the game for the defense, led by defensive coordinator Rob Thomson, Matt’s father, is speed. Southington may not be a big team, but it has plenty of speed. In the last six games, opponents haven’t fared well against that speed. After beating New Britain 54-20, the Blue Knight defense has allowed just two touchdowns — both in the fourth quarter with the reserves on the field — in the last six games. There are three shutouts within those six games, and no opponent scored more than eight points. Southington has won the six games by scores of 48-0, 41-6, 27-0, 49-8, 48-0 and 44-7.
In the regular season finale against Cheshire, the Blue Knights faced Ram senior running back Andrew Yamin, who came in averaging over 230 yards per game. Southington held the senior standout to 22 yards on 15 carries.
“Holding Yamin to  yards when he averages 200 yards-plus definitely surprised us,” Matt Thomson said.
Why have the Blue Knights been so good on defense? Southington coach Mike Drury sees a defense that is intense, plays as one and is aggressive.
“We’ve been tackling great this entire season, gang-tackling,” Drury said.
Thomson and senior defensive end Matt Koczera each have over 80 tackles on the season (84 and 81), but they also lead the team in assisted tackles (50 and 41), according to statistics posted on MaxPreps.com.
“One guy tackles him, you got 10 guys on his back gang-tackling him,” Thomson said.
Koczera (listed at 6-foot, 206 pounds), senior defensive end Dan Williams (5-11, 210) and senior defensive tackle Zack Spooner (5-10, 194) may not be the biggest line in terms of size, but they’re tough to get past.
“They play with a motor and an intensity, and they’re strong,” Drury said.
Each lineman is capable of stopping the run, then getting after the quarterback on pass plays. Zach Maxwell — now at West Point — is no longer patrolling the front line on defense, but Southington is still giving opposing quarterbacks fits. Koczera leads the team with seven sacks while Williams has tallied six. The Blue Knights have 30 sacks as a team.
“We have some great pass rushers this season,” Drury said.
At linebacker, there’s Thomson (6-2, 205), senior Steve Hamel (6-0, 191) and junior Logan LaRosa (5-11, 185). Thomson has been a great leader along with Hamel, who calls out the plays on the field.
“Our linebackers are tough in the middle and they are great blitzers,” Drury said.
Thomson and Hamel are tied for third on the team in sacks with 3½. Freshman Ryan Montalvo (5-10, 195), who rotates in at linebacker, is fifth with 2½ sacks.
“When teams pass, we’ve been really trying to pressure the quarterback,” Drury said.
In the secondary, quarterbacks have to deal with senior Alex Jamele (5-11, 176), senior Matt Maxwell (6-2, 190), senior Drew Barmore (5-11, 177), senior Peter Majchrzak (5-10, 166) and sophomore Anthony Plantamuro (5-9, 155). Maxwell is tied for the team lead in interceptions with Thomson at three while Barmore has two.
Southington’s defense has given up less than seven points per game and has forced opponents into 28 turnovers. The Blue Knights have made plenty of noise with their explosive offense this season, but their defense has also been great.
“It’s doing your job, and we have a great defensive coordinator in Rob Thomson,” Drury said.
Southington also has great defensive players who are committed to playing hard on that side of the ball. The Blue Knights look to stay aggressive on defense in their Class LL-Large semifinal against Glastonbury on Saturday.
SOUTHINGTON — OK, we’re going to go back to the first quarter of the first game of the year for the 2014 Southington football team.
Not to dredge up bad memories for Jasen Rose, but to show just how fast and fully the junior has blossomed in his first year as quarterback for the Blue Knights.
• First pass: Intercepted, nice play by defensive back on overthrown deep ball down the middle.
• Second pass: Incomplete over middle, deflecting high off receiver’s hands, nearly intercepted.
• Third pass: Incomplete hitch, again sailing high.
• Fourth pass: Incomplete slant, broken up.
• Fifth pass: Incomplete screen pass, thrown low.
Rose, he remembers.
“That was my first game at quarterback in two years,” he said after practice Wednesday as the Blue Knights prepared for Saturday’s Class LL-Large semifinal against Glastonbury, the same team they faced on opening night. “I hadn’t seen a varsity game at quarterback ever, actually.
“I was nervous. Emotions were high. There was a big crowd. It was Game of the Week. I was nervous, definitely. We got the win, but it was ugly.”
“Thorny” might be the better word. Every Rose has one, right?
For this rookie quarterback, those first five possessions against Glastonbury on opening night and then a cold, wet afternoon on Nov. 1 against Newington, stand out as the only blemishes on a spectacular season.
And even then, consider that against Glastonbury, after the 0-for-5 start, Rose went on to complete 11 of his next 17 passes for 167 yards before re-aggravating a preseason shoulder injury late in the third quarter of a 41-38 victory.
And consider that against Newington, a spread passing team that generated virtually no offense playing in the same conditions, Rose still threw for 201 yards in a 27-0 victory.
Yeah, there hasn’t been much at all ugly about this first season at QB for Rose.
In fact, it’s been an American beauty. Rose has completed 71 percent of his passes (179-252) for 2,652 yards and 41 touchdowns. He’s thrown just nine interceptions.
Rose now goes into the postseason leading a rapid-fire, no-huddle offense that is a picture of symmetry. The Blue Knights, passing for 274 yards a game and rushing for 181, average 455 yards a game. They average 45.5 points.
Sometimes, numbers don’t reflect a fine machine. In this case, they do.
“You look around our offense, you’re not going to find a kid who’s not a stud,” said Rose. “We’ve got two stud running backs, four stud wide receivers and a stud O-line. That’s what you need to have an offense that does what we do.”
Rose left himself off the, um, stud list. His teammates and coaches do not.
They knew the situation Rose was walking into. He may have been a varsity starter last year, but he was at slot receiver/tight end. He was on the receiving end of passes from Stephen Barmore, who as a 3½-year starter wasn’t so much the incumbent quarterback as he was an institution.
Plus, Barmore led the Blue Knights to a state championship.
Here you go, kid, the job is now yours.
“He did have huge shoes to fill from Barmore last year,” said junior right tackle Trevor Godston. “He’s done a tremendous job of filling them and I’m happy to block for him.”
Due to his preseason shoulder injury, Rose didn’t have much prep time for his new role. On top of it, he’s an underclassman. The opening night jitters easily could have been foreseen.
So, too, however, was the big picture. Southington coaches had full confidence in their new signal caller. In Week 2, Rose was 21-for-32 for 301 yards and four touchdowns in a 56-15 win over Manchester, and stats of that sort soon became business as usual.
“You never foresee the numbers and things like that, but we knew his skill set,” said Southington head coach Mike Drury. “He’s a very intellectual football player and he can make plays. He makes real good decisions and he makes quick decisions.”
Rose stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 225 pounds. He could be a ball-carrying force much like Barmore was, but with Southington’s new two-back rotation of Alessio Diana and Vance Upham, he doesn’t have to be.
His job is to set up shop in the pocket created by Godston and the boys up front and determine which of his four receivers — Alex Jamele, Kyle Borawski, Matt Maxwell and Austin Morin — is in position to make the best play.
Jamele, the All-Stater, is the leading man with 67 catches for 890 yards, but Rose is equally comfortable going to the others. Borawski is 39-for-671, Maxwell 38-for-653 and Morin 29-for-451.
“He’s good at reading plays, seeing linebackers,” noted offensive lineman Vinny Milardo. “He also has great communication with everybody — the linemen, the receivers.”
“Bottom line,” said Drury, “he’s really matured as a player and as a leader on the team.”
Rose had three 300-yard games against Manchester, New Britain and Conard. Against New Britain, which also qualified for the Class LL-Large playoffs and will face NFA in Saturday’s other semifinal, Rose was 30-for-36 for 360 yards and six touchdowns.
The regular season was capped with another stat-busting performance, the best to date. Against Cheshire in Saturday’s Apple Classic, Rose completed 30 of 37 passes for five TDs and a season-high 418 yards.
The first half was a picture of democracy that actually works: 21-for-24, 308 yards, with five completions to each receiver and one screen to Alessio Diana.
“It’s not me. When you have the time that the O-line gives me, any ball can be there,” Rose said. “The receivers make every catch, but it really starts up front.”
Rose is generating considerable Division I college interest, but so far all of it is at tight end.
Given the way this season has developed, Rose is going to take an approach more befitting his new job. He’s going to scan the whole field.
“I’m not sure what I want to do yet,” he said. “But from this quarterback experience, I’m definitely looking into being a college quarterback.”
The Southington Blue Knights kept rolling Friday night, taking down the Conard Chieftains 41-6, and securing the CCC West Division Title.
The newly-crowned division champs, and No. 1 team in the state struck early and often and never looked back. Jasen Rose had a monster game for Southington throwing for 367 yards and 5 touchdowns, after starting the game 13-13 with 185 yards. Despite some early penalties, the Blue Knights dominated both sides of the ball as they cruised to victory.
“This got us our division title, the one that got away from us last year,” head coach Mike Drury said. “It was great. We talked about this being our first championship goal, and what it’s like to play in a championship. You have to bring your A-game, you have to execute and compete and they did a good job of that tonight. I know the kids did a great job and we’re all excited.”
Southington High School’s football team may have won the Class LL Championship last season, but starting September 12th the team will have to defend that title in the season opener against Glastonbury.
The team has a new quarterback, Jasen Rose, after Steven Barmore went off to Yale. The past glory is in the past, according to head coach Mike Drury, and the team now needs to focus on the present.