The bye week could not have come at a better time for the Bristol Central football team.
Reeling after two straight lopsided losses and suffering from a series of nagging injuries that have limited playing time for a number of starters, the Rams can use the week off to recover and recuperate from the pair of staggering losses.
“We’ve got the bye week coming up,” coach Jeff Papazian said after Friday’s game, “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.”
“We’re going to keep pushing them,” Papazian added, “and they need to respond. We have five games left and it is up to them how they want to finish the season.”
For a good part of Friday’s game the Rams hung with one of the state’s most high-powered offensive teams.
Central matched the Dragons touchdown for touchdown over the first 20 minutes of the contest. But two quick Middletown touchdowns in the closing seconds of the half and a sputtering attack to open the second half doomed the Rams to a second straight defeat.
Behind by 17 at the half, the Rams put together their best defensive stand of the game, stopping the Dragons on three quick plays to force a punt and set up the offense in its best field position of the night.
In a bid to climb back into the game, the Rams picked up a quick first down on a 14-yard pass from Dathan Hickey to Nigel West. But Hickey was knocked backward on two of the next three plays. The drive stalled and the Rams never got it in gear offensively the rest of the way.
Middletown put together a long drive on the solid running of Xavier Reyes to score late in the third period and took advantage of a short field after an interception to take a 49-18 lead as the fourth quarter began.
One of the biggest advantages for Middletown in the contest was its kicking game. The Blue Dragons succeeded on all eight extra point attempts, while the Rams failed to convert until the final touchdown.
Central started every drive but one at or inside its own 20 yard line. The Rams were able to drive the 80 yards three times, but it was a long struggle for much of the night.
Middletown played with a short field virtually all night, starting most of its drives very close to midfield. The final two touchdowns both came off drives that started on the Central side of the field.
Hickey led a Central attack that netted 302 yards in total offense. He rushed 16 times for 48 yards and completed 10 of 20 passes for 114 yards and a pair of touchdowns. But he was intercepted three times and two of those interceptions led directly to Middletown touchdowns.
Justus Fitzpatrick carried twice for 61 yards and caught five passes for 46 yards. Darrell Payton picked up 79 yards on 15 carries, most of them late in the game, and scored a touchdown.
Nigel West and Ryan Rodriguez were on the receiving end of the two touchdown passes. It was the first touchdown of the season for each.
Middletown had 309 yards in total offense, nearly all of it on the ground.
Xavier Reyes led the attack with 139 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries, including a back-breaking 48-yard touchdown run that gave the Dragons a 21-12 lead midway through the opening period.
Quarterback Stone Belzo rushed six times for 82 yards and a touchdown and completed four of five passes for 36 yards.
Reserve running back Tyreece Lumpkin had a big fourth quarter for the Dragons, rushing for 59 yards and two touchdowns.
With the loss, the Rams dropped to 2-3 on the season and out of the Class L playoff picture. The Rams remain in a three-way tie for second place in the CCC Division II-West.
Central, along with the rest of the CCC, will take next week off and return to action on Oct. 20 with a home match against divisional rival Newington.