BRISTOL - Bristol Central was leading top-10 ranked Windsor by a point with just over a minute to play in the first half of Friday night’s home opener. But the Rams allowed the Warriors to march 68 yards on eight straight passing plays to score with seven seconds left and take a lead they would never relinquish in a 29-19 victory.
The Rams were controlling the pace of the game and keeping the athletic Warriors in check until quarterback Julian Jackson suddenly found his touch in the closing minute of the first half. Jackson hit Jerry Woodard for 23 yards, then had completions of 16 and 17 yards to L.J. Walcott, sandwiched around a short gainer to set up a 9-yard TD pass to Woodard that completely turned the momentum on the side of Windsor.
The Warriors continued the aerial blitz in the third period as they struck for two quick scores to take a 29-13 lead and the Rams spent the rest of the night scrambling to play catch-up.
“I thought for most of the first half we played really hard and really well,” Central coach Jeff Papazian said. “But we had a couple of breakdowns there late in the first half that really hurt.”
The teams battled evenly through a scoreless first period and well into the second quarter with neither team able to get much going in the way of offense until Central’s Darrell Payton found some running room up the middle and broke free for a 50-yard gainer that set the Rams up deep in Windsor territory with about five minutes remaining in the half.
Quarterback Dathan Hickey then took charge, running the ball on four consecutive plays to cap the drive with an 11 yard score with 3:38 left in the half. Mike Guzman kicked the extra point to give the Rams a 7-0 lead.
But after backing the Warriors up to face a third-and-9 at midfield, the Rams suffered the breakdowns Papazian referred to. Tomasz Johnson was able to scramble for 15 yards and a first down and on the next play Jackson found a wide open L.J. Walcott for a 33-yard touchdown bomb to tie the game.
Central countered quickly when Hickey took the kickoff back 91 yards for a 13-7 lead with 1:21 remaining, but Jackson and the Windsor passing offense took over from there.
Johnson ran 15 yards for a score to cap a quick Windsor drive to open the second half and Jackson connected with Walcott again for a 38-yard touchdown strike to put the Warriors in control.
Hickey scored for Central on a 15-yard scamper with 6:41 left in the half and was driving the Rams again late before Woodard stepped in front of a pass at the goal line to end the final Central threat with 17 seconds remaining.
Jackson and the Warriors put the ball in the air 27 times, including nine in a row at the end of the opening half. He completed 20 of the 27 including all eight of his second half passes for a total of 236 yards and two touchdowns.
Hickey, after a slow start, had another big night running the ball for the Rams, thanks mainly to a pair of big runs on Central’s fourth quarter touchdown drive. He carried 27 times for 143 yards and two rushing touchdowns along with the kick return for a score.
It was a strong effort but a disappointing result on a night when the Rams opened their new turf field.
“You have to give Windsor credit,” Papazian said. “They are a top ten team in the state, but I don’t think we were intimidated by them. We hung with them, but at the end of the day the goal wasn’t to hang with them. The effort was there. The energy was really good. But they made a couple of more plays than we did and we are not where we wanted to be at this point. “