WEST HARTFORD — The Southington football team’s two-week tour of West Hartford had a precarious beginning, but ended with authority.
The loss at Hall on Oct. 19 had the Blue Knights focusing a little bit harder on what lies ahead. The revival came in the form of Zach Maxwell punishing would-be tacklers as a running back in addition to the crushing hits he’s been putting on ballcarriers all season.
Maxwell scored three touchdowns and led a revitalized defense Oct. 26 as Southington plundered Conard 56-27 in a CCC Division I West clash at Robert J. McKee Stadium that wasn’t as close as the final score would suggest.
Maxwell scored all of his touchdowns in the first quarter as Southington (5-1, 3-1) rolled to a 35-0 lead, piling up over 200 yards on offense and holding the rebuilding Chieftains (2-4, 1-2) to negative yardage from scrimmage.
“This week was basically the week to prove to ourselves that we were still a dominant force in the state and that things are still going the way they should be,” Maxwell said.
Quarterback Stephen Barmore threw two touchdown passes to his primary target Alex Jamele and ran for one. Tyler Hyde ran for two.
But as the Knights discovered after blowing a three-touchdown lead in the 49-37 loss to Hall, how you start is only half the equation. This time, their resolve carried them through the early portion of the second half and the finish was in the hands of the junior varsity.
“The loss was definitely motivation, but what was more motivation is everything that we did wrong in that game,” Barmore said. “We really needed to clean up everything and make sure that we executed the things we didn’t last week.”
Coach Mike Drury put a greater emphasis on running the ball by interjecting Maxwell into the offense and designing more running plays for the 6-2, 210-pound Barmore. Maxwell ran the ball four times — all in the first quarter — and averaged 22 yards per try. The defenders that dared challenge him after he picked up a head of steam came face to face with McKee Stadium’s FieldTurf.
“The receivers blocked great on the perimeter and I just found the holes,” Maxwell said. “If anyone was in the way, I wanted to score so ... .”
Maxwell carried just twice the first four weeks and five times against Hall. Although Southington traditionally has played two-platoon football, his power thrusts are likely to become an offensive staple as the Knights strive for a Class LL playoff berth.
“[Maxwell] and Hyde complement each other very well,” Drury said. “We know he’s a horse. He’s a big, fast kid and he’s a tough runner. He’s been practicing great the past two weeks, so we knew he was ready.”
Maxwell, a linebacker with that All-State look, is on pace to become Southington’s all-time sack leader. He had a hand in two during the first quarter. Junior linemen Dan Williams and Zack Spooner and linebacker Steven Hamel also disrupted the Conard offense by getting into the backfield regularly.
“If teams are going to throw the ball, [Maxwell] is going to get pressure on them,” Drury said. “If multiple guys block him, we’re still going to get that pressure. In the run game, he’s really stepped up this year in terms of playing with leverage and making plays like that. He’s really a dynamic player.”
Southington’s domination of Conard’s defense was palpable in the space that Maxwell, Barmore, Hyde and Jamele had as they turned upfield with the ball.
The other indication was the nature of Southington’s drives. None of the five scoring drives in the first quarter lasted more than four plays, with only the first one wiping more than a minute off the clock.
The Knights continue to get a lift from the kicking of Kyle Smick. Smick drilled all eight PAT placements to extend his season string to 25 straight since missing in the second quarter against Manchester in Week 2. He also collected six touchbacks on his kickoffs.
“He’s a converted soccer player. Last year was his first year and he really put in a lot of time in the offseason,” Drury said. “He was by himself kicking at the school all summer long and all spring long. He’s really coming into his own and it’s such a weapon to have defensively for us to pin a team back at the 20 every time we score.”
Southington’s three-week road swing continues Nov. 1 at Alumni Field in Newington.