Fairfield Prep comes back, beats Southington
SOUTHINGTON — The angels were with them. The demons were cast out. The Jesuits moved on.
Sam Roberto’s 30-yard touchdown reception, breaking tackles and dragging the pile, with 7:28 remaining proved the difference Tuesday in Fairfield Prep’s 28-21 win over Southington at Fontana Field in the CIAC Class LL football quarterfinals.
The Jesuits avenged a playoff loss to Southington that was on at least one player’s mind, even though he was in sixth grade at the time. But his coach was on that staff, and his coach was going through a tough week.
“They beat us in the state championship in 2013,” Prep junior quarterback J.P. Iaropoli said, “so it feels (darn) good, to be honest.”
Fairfield Prep (10-1), the fifth seed, will host eighth-seeded, eighth-ranked New Canaan (9-2) on Sunday at Rafferty Stadium in the semifinals. The Rams knocked off top-seeded Shelton 42-34.
The Jesuits lost in the quarterfinals last year to Greenwich. That was on their minds, too, at halftime after a frustrating two quarters in which they didn’t tackle well (after their first touchdown, Angelo Plantamuro broke a couple of tackles on the kickoff return and took it 95 yards) and were lucky to be down 14-6.
“I think that locker room speech by coach (Keith) Hellstern stuck with us,” junior cornerback Luke Hopkins said.
“We were down a similar score last year to Greenwich. We knew the outcome wasn’t going to be the same in the second half.”
If Hellstern was emotional, he had more than enough excuse: He lost his father, Richard, Monday morning.
“It’s been a very hard week,” Hellstern said. “But my boys picked me up.”
After Southington’s Billy Carr got a piece of a punt with 4:38 remaining, the Blue Knights (10-1) had the ball down seven at the Jesuits’ 43. They marched, with help from a pass-interference call, inside the 2 yard line. On fourth-and-1, the Jesuits denied Tanner LaRosa, and though he broke away from a couple of tacklers, he was brought down to all but end it.
“They made a play. We didn’t make the play down there,” Southington coach Mike Drury said. “It’s a hard one, hard to go down on fourth-and-inches.”
The Jesuits came out moving the ball well to start the second half.
“They were really stacking the box,” Iaropoli said. “We just had to pepper them with some short stuff. It opened up the lanes for” backs T.J. Walton and Doug Harrison.
Though the 12-play drive stalled at the Southington 26, they’d built some confidence and got it to pay off after the Blue Knights fumbled on the next play.
Nine plays after that, Iaropoli scored, and Harrison’s conversion run tied it at 14. The Blue Knights marched back quickly with a nine-play touchdown drive of their own, Jacob Drena to Carter Uhlman for the second time, but the Jesuits came back with an eight-play scoring drive, capped by Walton’s second touchdown.
After a three-and-out, Harrison’s 23-yard punt return set up Roberto’s score. Hopkins followed up with a second-down interception.
“You can’t turn the ball over in big games like that. That hurt us a little bit,” Drury said. “The kids fought, played hard. I thought we did a pretty good job against their offense. I’m proud of our guys.”
It was the Jesuits who just eked it out, consolation and vengeance for 2013.
“To use a fancy word,” Hellstern said, “cathartic.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Tough to pick between the backs, the other of whom scored two touchdowns, and they both had 49 second-half yards, but Doug Harrison had a two-point conversion, a 28-yard run to set up T.J. Walton’s second score and a long punt return to help set up the winning touchdown.
“My heart left my body.” — Fairfield Prep coach Keith Hellstern on the Jesuits’ stop on fourth-and-1 at the 2 with 1:13 left
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FAIRFIELD PREP 28, SOUTHINGTON 21
FAIRFIELD PREP0 6 8 14—28
SOUTHINGTON7 7 7 0—21
S—Carter Uhlman 14 pass Jacob Drena (Evan Johanns kick)
F—T.J. Walton 4 run (kick failed)
S—Angelo Plantamuro 95 kickoff return (Johanns kick)
F—J.P. Iaropoli 1 run (Doug Harrison run)
S—Uhlman 6 pass Drena (Johanns kick)
F—Walton 10 run (Murray McCarthy kick)
F—Sam Roberto 30 pass Iaropoli (McCarthy kick)
Records: Fairfield Prep 10-1; Southington 10-1.