Bristol Central football took a step backwards Friday night at Falcon Field in Meriden.
The Rams, who had shown steady improvement over the course of the first three weeks of the season, were soundly beaten by Maloney, victimized as much by their own mistakes as they were by an aggressive Maloney team that grew stronger as the game progressed.
The Rams appeared to be demoralized by an early Maloney touchdown and were not able to regroup after Maloney quarterback Larue Graham, facing third-and-18 from the midfield stripe, threw a perfect strike to an uncovered Chris Infante to pull the Spartans out of an early hole.
Central’s defense had looked solid, knocking the Spartans back on a couple of plays after Graham had a scrambled for a first down on the first possession of the game.
But after giving up the big-play touchdown, Central never seemed to get it in gear.
“That first touchdown took the wind out of our sails,” Central coach Jeff Papazian said after the game. “For whatever reason, we lost a whole bunch of momentum. There was a whole lot of game left at that point, but we just didn’t respond.”
“We’re going to have to take a hard look at the film and see what we did well and what we have to improve on,” Papazian said. “It starts right here with us, with the coaching staff. We have to do a better job of preparing the kids to play four quarters of smart football. We didn’t do that tonight and it doesn’t get any easier next week.”
While giving plenty of credit to a solid Maloney team, Papazian was especially unhappy with the rash of penalties that stymied whatever attempts the Rams were able to make to get back into the game.
Late in the first half, Central drove inside the Spartan 10, but was knocked back by penalties and the drive stalled on fourth down.
In all, the Rams were whistled for 13 penalties, resulting in 117 lost yards.
“In some ways you can live with the penalties that come during game play,” Papazian said, “but those penalties after the play have got to stop. We have to play smarter.”
The Rams also had some uncharacteristic breakdowns on the front line, especially in the second half. Forced to throw while down four touchdowns, Central’s front line was only mildly successful in providing the protection that quarterback Dathan Hickey needed.
Hickey completed seven of 12 second half passes for 79 yards, but he was sacked six times in the second half and was unable to come up with the scrambling runs that have helped make the Central offense go in the first three games of the year.
Overall, the Spartan defense had eight sacks in the game.
Hickey had 148 yards of forward rushing, but was knocked backward for a total of 69 yards, giving him a net of just 79 yards, which was his lowest rushing total since taking over the QB slot for the injured Isaiah Miller.
He scored Central’s only touchdown on a run of 15 yards in the second quarter.
Justus Fitzpatrick had a solid game for the Central offense, catching seven passes for 90 yards and rushing for 32 more on five carries. But the Maloney defense effectively shut down the Rams’ other offensive weapon, holding Darrell Payton to just two yards on three carries.
For the first time this season, the Rams were unable to contain the opponents’ rushing game as well. Maloney running back Aden Valentin rushed for 177 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries, and also caught a pass for 44 yards and a score.
Graham rushed for 52 yards and passed for 140 in a 10-for-16 passing effort. The Spartans put up 360 yards in total offense.
The win was a big one for Maloney and turned even bigger when all of Friday night’s results were in. At 2-0 in the division, the Spartans are now the only unbeaten team in the CCC Division II-West after Wethersfield surprised Platt to knock the Panthers from the ranks of the unbeaten.
Things will not get any easier for the Rams this week, as they travel to Middletown to take on the unbeaten Blue Dragons on Friday night.
“It’s gut check time now,” Papazian said. “We have to go out and get to work, because we’re making the trip to Middletown next week. We’ll see how we respond come Monday.”