SOUTHINGTON — The shock of losing Tuesday night was written all over Southington senior Lincoln Cardillo’s face.
Despite running for 235 yards and four touchdowns, he and the No. 1-seeded Blue Knights were upset by No. 8 Trumbull 34-25 in the CIAC Class LL state quarterfinals at Fontana Field.
In a game that saw Trumbull (8-3) and Southington (9-2) combine for over 800 yards of offense, the Blue Knights led 25-20 in the third quarter before the Eagles scored the game’s final 14 points.
“I’m still kind of speechless, trying to take all this in,” said Cardillo as he stood near midfield. “As a senior, this isn’t the way we want to go out. We had opportunities, but just didn’t capitalize on what we needed to do.
“It didn’t come out the way we wanted it to, but we win as a team and lose as a team,” added Cardillo. “There isn’t a single person I rather play football with. All my boys that I’ve played football with since elementary school, middle school, high school, all the way to now.”
“It’s a crazy experience; I’m just ready for the next journey,” Cardillo continued.
While Southington’s season is over, Trumbull’s first trip to the CIAC state playoffs in 12 years continues Sunday with a Class LL semifinal at Fairfield Prep. The No. 5 Jesuits upset No. 4 Staples 23-22 in another quarterfinal game Tuesday.
The Eagles are still alive thanks in large part to junior running back Jonathan Hall, who started in the place of injured Rowan Johnston and his 28 rushing touchdowns in nine games.
Hall ran for all five of Trumbull’s TDs on Tuesday night and accounted for all 34 of Trumbull’s points.
Hall finished with 244 yards rushing on 39 carries. He scored on runs of 9, 24 and 36 yards in the first half. He also ran for a pair of two-point conversions.
“I have been working for this and I got my chance and I did what I can do,” Hall said. “I needed to step up, and I guess I did tonight.”
Hall’s 53-yard scamper through the SHS defense off a direct snap with 6:09 to play all but sealed Trumbull’s win. Earlier, his fourth TD of the game gave the Eagles a 28-25 lead with 1:14 to play in the third quarter.
Needing two scores to tie the game, Southington got the ball back after Hall’s fifth touchdown with just over six minutes to play.
But the Blue Knights got no closer than the Trumbull 43 before turning the ball over on downs with 4:10 to play. SHS never saw the ball again, as the Eagles ran out the clock.
Southington quarterback C.J. DiBenedetto finished 19-of-29 for 199 yards. He was intercepted once.
Ray Williams and Jared Ierardi each had five catches, while John Flynn caught four DiBenedetto passes for a team-high 64 yards.
“Jon (Hall) was just phenomenal,” Trumbull head coach Marce Petroccio said. “The night he had tonight was just phenomenal. The offensive line was phenomenal.
“Listen, that’s the No. 1 team in the state,” added Petroccio. “The defense just played an incredible. Southington is a great football team. Coach Drury does a great job.
“This is just so big for our program,” Petroccio continued. “To be in the semifinals — this is all new to us. To make this leap, it just says a lot about the kids I coach.”
Hall was matched by Cardillo’s final virtuoso performance in Blue and White. Cardillo’s fourth touchdown run with 9:05 to play in the third quarter put the Blue Knights up 25-20.
Cardillo ripped off runs of 9 and 24 yards before his 14-yard TD run gave SHS its first lead since he took the opening play of the game 64 yards to the end zone.
Both Cardillo and Hall ran for three touchdowns in the first half that saw Trumbull lead 20-19 at the break.
“We were holding our breath every time (Cardillo) touched the ball,” Petroccio said.
The Blue Knights took a 25-20 lead on Cardillo’s fourth touchdown of the game. Cardillo went over the 200-yard mark on a drive. With his 235 yards Tuesday night, he finished the season with 1,687 yards and 26 touchdowns.
The Southington defense stopped Trumbull to start the second half, forcing the Eagles to punt for the first time after Caden Sirois and the SHS defensive backfield stymied Trumbull quarterback Hunter Agosti (12-23, 177 yards).
“We knew about Hall, but the big thing was they did a good job with some of their offensive sets,” Southington head coach Mike Drury said. “But Hall is a good runner.
“But we were matching them; we just made some critical errors at some key times,” Drury continued. “We drove down there twice (in the second half). We just needed to come away with points there. We should have had two more scores.”
Southington wasn’t the only top seed to lose in the CIAC playoffs.
No. 1 St. Joseph was upset by Cheshire 24-14 in Class L and Wilton took down No. 1 SMSA 13-6 in Class MM.
In Class LL, Southington, No. 3 West Haven and No. 4 Staples all lost. The Westies fell to No. 6 Glastonbury 17-7.
The number of upsets around the state didn’t come as a shock to Drury.
“It says everyone is good,” Drury said. “In our division, everyone is good. West Haven lost. None of (the results) surprise me. We knew (Trumbull) was good and had the ability to beat us if we made mistakes.
“But I’m proud of the kids. They played hard all game and cared. They care about the program,” Drury added.
It didn’t take long for the scoring to start and it continued throughout an entertaining first half.
So much for being a backup running back. Hall ran for three first-half touchdowns and 132 yards on 19 carries.
Hall started in place of Johnston, who was out with a shoulder injury. Johnston didn’t play in the Eagles’ 20-17 loss to St. Joseph’s on Thanksgiving, which saw Hall run for over 150 yards, but stopped on a crucial fourth-and-goal situation.
“He was just devastated,” Petroccio said.
Hall and Cardillo put on a first-half show. Each ran for three touchdowns and for over 100 yards in a half that saw Trumbull and the Blue Knights combine for over 500 yards of offense.
Cardillo took the first play of the game 64 yards to the end zone for a 7-0 Southington lead.
Trumbull came right back to score on its opening possession and took a 14-7 lead with 1:16 left in the first quarter. The Eagles’ lead grew to 20-7 before the Blue Knights came back to within one point in the second quarter.
Cardillo got SHS within 20-13 with a 9-yard TD run with 6:50 left in the half and then closed the gap to 20-19 with an 8-yard run with 3:06 on the clock.
Cardillo finished the first 24 minutes with 167 yards on 14 carries.
Trumbull maintained a one-point lead, however, when SHS went for a two-point conversion following Cardillo’s third TD. It failed when DiBenedetto’s pass was knocked down by the Eagles’ defensive line.
Hall was seldom stopped in the first half. His fourth carry of the game was a prelude to a first half that saw him carry the ball 19 times for 132 yards.
Hall scored on a 25-yard run to cap off Trumbull’s first possession. He then carried the ball on five of six plays to give Trumbull its 14-7 lead. Hall scored his second touchdown on a 25-yard run and then ran the ball in for a two-point conversion.
Hall then scampered 36 yards for a 20-7 Eagles’ lead with 9:37 left in the half.