SIMSBURY, December 4 – The Simsbury High football team erased an early 14-point deficit to take the lead and forced a pair of turnovers in the final 6:16 of the game to beat Cheshire Wednesday night in the Class LL quarterfinals and their first-ever CIAC playoff game at Holden Field.
Trailing by three points, Cheshire (8-3) was threatening to take the lead. The Rams had the ball on the Simsbury four-yard line but coughed up the ball on a bad pitch that Simsbury’s Dan Sohn greedily gobbled up with 6:16 remaining in the game.
“It all happened so fast,” Sohn said. “I don’t ever think I’ve moved that fast.”
No. 5 Cheshire forced Simsbury to punt and again had the ball on the Simsbury 17-yard line with under two minutes remaining when Trojan defender Zach Gilbert intercepted Cheshire QB Jason Smumilla on the five-yard line with 1:34 remaining in the game.
With their first-ever playoff win in five appearances, No. 4-seeded Simsbury (10-1) advances to next Monday’s Class LL semifinals against top-ranked Newtown (11-0) at 6:30 p.m. on the road. Simsbury was making their first playoff appearance since 2009.
“It’s pretty cool,” Masters said with a smile about Simsbury’s first-ever football playoff win as his Trojan players and classmates celebrated on the slick Holden Field turf that was covered by nearly a foot of snow less than 24 hours earlier. But school’s Maintenance staff had the first big play of the game on Monday night by getting the field cleared in time for the contest.
“We knew our defense would stand strong,” Simsbury linebacker Tommy Guilfoyle said. “We came up with two huge turnovers in the red zone (inside the 20-yard line) and that basically won us the game.”
Simsbury led 17-14 when Cheshire’s Alec Frione intercepted Simsbury QB Aiden Boeshans early in the fourth quarter. Two plays later, Cheshire’s Christian Russo broke two tackles on third down and ran 15 yards to the Simsbury 16-yard line. After a pair of runs, Cheshire had first down and goal on the Simsbury four-yard line.
Simsbury stopped Russo for no gain on first down but a bad pitch from Cheshire QB Jason Smumilla ended up on the ground and Sohn gobbled it up with 6:16 left to stop the Ram’s drive.
The Trojans were forced to punt and the Rams took over on the Simsbury 33-yard line with 3:52 remaining. On fourth down and one at the 24-yard line, Smumilla kept the drive alive with an eight-yard run to the Simsbury 16-yard line. But on third down, Gilbert secured an interception from Smumilla to stop another potential scoring drive with 1:34 left in the game.
“Listen, there is no mystery about football,” Cheshire High coach Don Drust said “At the end of the day, the game is about tackling, controlling the ball. We made some mistakes that were uncharacteristic of ourselves I would say. But, you know what? The effort was tremendous from our guys and they’ve worked so hard all the way up to this point.”
Cheshire looked like they would run away with this game early, scoring twice on their first two drives of the game to grab a 14-0 lead. On their first drive, the Rams marched 80 yards on eight plays with Colby Griffin scoring on an eight-yard pass from Smumilla. The big play on the drive was a 43-yard pass from Smumilla to Frione.
The Rams scored their second TD 2:03 later when Frione scored on a 22-yard pass from Smumilla with 3:14 left in the first quarter.
So, Simsbury modified their offense and literally ran the ball down Cheshire’s throat, marching 79 yards on 14 plays. Thirteen of the 14 plays were runs. Brendan Gaffney had a 10-yard run on the drive while Sohn had a 22-yard run to the Cheshire nine-yard line.
“We went to like a double wing tight formation something we could grind it out, chew up some yards and make them adjust,” Masters said.
Simsbury nearly scored but Cheshire linebacker Jacob Dubois made a big hit on Boeshans on the one-yard line to keep him out of the end zone on a fourth down run.
Cheshire took over on their one-yard line before the defense stood up and got a two-point safety with Arjun Bhamidipati tackling Cheshire’s Ryan Mancl in the end zone to cut the lead to 14-2 with 7:34 left in the second quarter.
Simsbury drove 45 yards on 10 plays with John Mairano scoring from the five-yard line with 2:45 left in the quarter. Caden Lill’s extra point cut the Rams’ lead to 14-9.
Cheshire was forced to punt but the snap sailed over the head of punter Jotham Casey, who chased down the ball and surrounded by two Simsbury defenders got off a punt that went out of bounds at the Cheshire 10-yard line.
Two play later, it was Mairano with a nine-yard touchdown run with 1:32 remaining in the second quarter. Boeshans converted on a two-point conversion throw to Brendan Gaffney to give Simsbury a 17-14 edge.
The Trojans were also inspired by all 12 of the sportswriters at GameTimeCT.com picking Cheshire to win. “No one picked us but we believe in ourselves and that is all it took,” Guilfoyle said.
Sohn rushed for a game-high 78 yards on 13 carries while Boeshans ran for 61 yards on 17 carries. Mairano had 33 yards and a pair of touchdowns on eight carries.
NOTES — It was Simsbury’s first-ever win over Cheshire, which beat the Trojans in the 1993 and 1994 Class L championship games. … Simsbury won their first playoff game in five appearances. Cheshire falls to 12-3 in CIAC playoff games. … Newtown advanced to the semifinals for the fourth time since 2011 with a dominating 35-0 win over No. 8 NFA. The Nighthawks sacked NFA quarterbacks 10 times and forced two turnovers.
Simsbury 17, Cheshire 14
Cheshire (8-3) 14 0 0 0 — 14
Simsbury (10-1) 0 17 0 0 — 17
C: Colby Griffin 8 pass from Jason Smumilla (Jotham Casey kick), 5:17
C: Alec Frione 22 pass from Smumilla (Casey kick), 3:14
S: Safety. Arjun Bhamidiati tackles Ryan Mancl in end zone, 7:34
S: John Mairano 5 run (Caden Lill kick), 2:45
S: Mairano 9 run (Brendan Gaffney pass from Aiden Boeshans), 1:32
RUSHING: Simsbury – Dan Sohn 13-78, Aiden Boeshans 17-61, John Mairano 8-33, Brendan Gaffney 9-23; Cheshire – Jake McAlinden 19-78, Thomas Graikoski 6-50, Christian Russo 3-9, Ryan Mancl 1-0
PASSING: Simsbury – Aiden Boeshans 5-9-1, 43; Zach Gilbert 0-1-0, 0; Cheshire – Jason Smumilla 6-12-1, 82
RECEIVING: Simsbury – Brendan Gaffney 1-19, Jeffrey Coleman 1-10, Dan Sohn 1-5, Zach Gilbert 2-1; Cheshire – Alec Frione 2-63, Colby Griffin 2-8, Jake McAlinden 1-6, Nicholas DiDomizio 1-5
INTERCEPTIONS: Zach Gilbert (S) 1-6, Alec Frione (Ch) 1-12; FUMBLE REC: Sohn (S) 1-0