Two teams with their sights on the CCC Division II-West championship will clash tonight at Falcon Field in Meriden when 2-1 Bristol Central travels to battle 2-1 Maloney.
The teams were part of a three-way tie for the division championship a year ago, and both are looking for a signature win tonight that could lead them toward a second straight crown.
The Rams and the Spartans are very similar in many ways. They have played an identical schedule over the first three weeks of the season and have come away with identical results. Both lost disappointing decisions at the hand of Windsor. Both racked up solid wins over Hartford Public and both came away with easy wins in their divisional openers last week.
Maloney used a 34-27 win over Central a year ago to stake its claim to the CCC South title. In that game quarterback Larue Graham racked up 244 yards through the air while leading his team to 408 yards in total offense. That was the second most yards the Central defense gave up in a game last season. Graham threw five touchdown passes and completed 18 of 30 passes. Graham is back for another season and so are a good part of his receivers.
“We know Maloney has a very good quarterback and lots of weapons on offense,” Central coach Jeff Papazian said. “They run really good patterns and have guys that can go up and get it when it is in the air. But they are also capable of getting yards with the run game. We’re going to have to play really well in all phases to have a chance in this one.”
The Rams are coming off a very impressive performance in their 33-0 win over Wethersfield last week.
“Any time you can pitch a shutout, you know the defense played really well,” Papazian said.
The Rams limited Wethersfield to under 70 yards in total offense and just 29 on the ground.
Central junior running back Darrell Payton had a breakout game against Wethersfield and the Rams will look to him to continue the strong effort. Payton rushed 18 times for 157 yards and three touchdowns a week ago and his ability to continue that pace will be key.
“We knew Darrell was capable of having games like that,” Papazian said. “The more Darrell can do to take the pressure off Dathan (Hickey) the better off we will be.”
Hickey remains in the quarterback slot this week. Last week he rushed for 97 yards and a touchdown and passed for 47 more. He remains the Rams’ main offensive threat. But he found a very capable target in receiver Nate Rosa, who had two big catches and a touchdown in the win.
“Nate Rosa made a really big catch for us on that first drive,” Papazian said, “and then he came down with the ball in the end zone off a tip. If we go three and out to start the game it could have been a whole different story last week. But his catch kind of set the tone. We’re looking for more good things from him.”
Tonight’s game promises to be another entertaining chapter in what is the longest running rivalry in Central football history, other than the Battle for the Bell. The Rams and the Spartans will be squaring off for the 57th time tonight. Maloney has won 29, Central 24, and there have been three ties. The Spartans have won the last two meetings.
As it did last year, tonight’s game could very well come down to who makes the last big play. And as was the case last year, that last big play will probably be made by the defense in a high-powered offensive battle.