MIDDLETOWN - A disastrous final 25 seconds of the opening half doomed the Bristol Central football team Friday night at Rosek-Skubel Stadium. Middletown scored 14 points in those final seconds to turn a three point advantage into a 17-point halftime edge and rolled in a dominating second half to score a 56-26 victory.
Central scored first in the contest and held the lead twice in the opening half. The Rams were matching the powerful Middletown offense play for play throughout the first half and were in a seemingly solid position trailing by just three points with a minute to play in the half.
But things went south for the Rams very quickly. Quarterback Stone Belzo broke a tackle and scampered 26 yards to put the Dragons in business deep in Central territory, then connected with Nico Cavaliere for a 14-yard completion as time ran down in the half.
With 25 seconds left, Xavier Reyes punched it over from the one and Mike Aresco kicked the extra point to give Middletown a 28-18 lead. And on the very next play, Gage Davis stepped in front of an ill advised pass by Central’s Dathan Hickey and returned it 25 yards to make it 35-18.
The Rams never recovered and the Dragons blew it open scoring 28 unanswered points in the second half before Central managed to put up a score against the reserves as time ran out.
“Things can get out of hand very quickly against a team as talented and athletic as Middletown,” said an obviously disappointed coach Jeff Papazian after the game. “I thought in the first half we had pretty good energy. We got things going pretty well offensively. Unfortunately we had a hard time getting the defense off the field. Give all the credit to Middletown. They are a really good team and they made the plays tonight.
Central got on the board first after recovering a muffed punt at the Middletown 24 yard line. Dathan Hickey passed to Ryan Rodriguez for the score and a 6-0 lead just three minutes into the game.
That lead lasted only 13 seconds, however, as Cavaliere returned the ensuing kickoff 69 yards and Aresco kicked the first of his eight extra points on the night.
The Rams responded quickly, covering 80 yard in just two plays. Justus Fitzpatrick broke loose for a 58 yard run and Hickey followed with a 22 yard touchdown run to give Central a 12-7 lead with just under eight minute left in the opening period.
Middletown came back with a 28 yard scoring run by Belzo to go up 14-12 and increased it to 21-12 on a big 48 yard run by Reyes early in the second quarter.
Once again the Rams responded, this time with their longest drive of the night as they marched 80 yards in nine plays capped by a perfect strike 23 yard pass from Hickey to Nigel West. But the Rams again failed to convert on the extra point and trailed 21-18 with three minutes left in the half.
Central’s defense appeared poised to stop the Dragons for the first time in the game as Middletown faced a third and seven near midfield with just over a minute to go. But Belzo came up with the big 26 yard run on a busted play and the Dragons were in business.
Central racked up 203 yards in total offense in the first half. Hickey completed 7 of 13 passes for 85 yards and two touchdowns. But it was a different story in the second half as the Rams managed just 19 yards in offense before the final drive by the reserves.
Middletown scored four second half touchdowns and led by 56-18 before the coaches cleared their benches and the game went to running clock mode with seven minutes to play.
“That was a costly play at the end of the half,” said Papazian. “We probably should have run the ball there. That one is on me. I need to do a better job of calling plays in that situation.”
The Rams fall to 2-3 on the season while Middletown improved to 5-0 as each goes into their bye week. “We’ve got the bye week coming up,” said Papazian, “and the kids have a decision to make. We can end up keeping on taking beatings or we can respond with two great weeks of practice and come out ready to play a complete game against Newington in two weeks.”