BRISTOL - Friday nightâ€™s CCC Division West game between Newington and Bristol Central was a defensive battle all the way, and in the end it was the Central defense that came up big with a sack on third down and a minute left to give the Rams a 20-17 win over Newington on Friday night.
Devon Dawsonâ€™s tackle of Newington quarterback Roberto Sanchez 14 yards behind the line of scrimmage knocked the Indians out of field goal range and forced a scramble on fourth down that came up well short as the Rams held on for the win.
Earlier in the series the Rams had appeared ready to hand the game over to Newington, first by allowing them to recover a kickoff deep in Central territory and then by committing two costly penalties that set the Indians up at the 5-yard line with two minutes to play.
But the Indians were flagged for a holding penalty on an incomplete pass and then Dawson came up with the big sack and the Rams held on for the win.
Despite the late drive by the Indians, it was an overall outstanding defensive effort by the Rams.
Central defenders spent much of the night in the Newington backfield, with seven quarterback sacks and 14 tackles for loss in the contest.
The Central defense limited the Indians to just 15 yards in rushing offense. Sanchez was their leading runner with just 34 yards.
Newington scored on the opening kickoff and the Indians had another long kick return after Centralâ€™s first quarter touchdown to set up a 25-yard field goal by freshman A.J. Ferreira, but the Indians did not come close to the end zone with their offense until the Rams had taken a 20-10 lead midway through the final period.
â€śThe defense was very good all night,â€ť Central coach Jeff Papazian said. â€śWe were able to take away some things that they wanted to do and we had a bend, but donâ€™t break attitude in our secondary. Except for one long pass where we had a bit of a breakdown, we held up pretty well.â€ť
Centralâ€™s offense sputtered for much of the night. After taking advantage of a short field after a good punt return by Dathan Hickey to score a first quarter touchdown, the Rams were unable to mount a consistent offense until the final period.
The Rams were forced to punt three times in the first half and had two third quarter possessions end by an interception and a punt.
The punting game was very effective, as Hickey averaged 39 yards a punt and kept the Indians pinned deep for much of the game.
For the first time this season, the Rams elected to put the ball in the air on the gameâ€™s opening kickoff - and the reason for a season long trend of squib kicks became quickly apparent when Newingtonâ€™s Carlum Caldwell returned the kick 92 yards for a touchdown.
Another long kickoff later in the period resulted in a 51-yard return for Caldwell to set up the field goal.
â€śItâ€™s not like we havenâ€™t practiced that over and over,â€ť Papazian said. â€śPeople ask why we arenâ€™t putting the kicks in the air. Thatâ€™s why.â€ť
The Rams went back to the squib kickoffs for the rest of the game.
Hickey again led the attack for the Rams with 130 yards on 19 carries. He scored all three of the Central touchdowns on runs of 28, 2 and 23 yards.
Newington kept him contained for much of the night, but when Hickey was able to break though the line, the Indians could not handle his speed and strength.
The Indians had a good line on running back Darrell Payton, who was held to just 15 yards rushing on six carries.
Hickey completed only two of nine passes, both to Justus Fitzpatrick, for 32 yards. But his 33-yard completion in the third period helped pull the Rams out of a deep hole in the shadow of their own end zone and eventually led to the punt that pinned the Indians inside their 20 and set the stage for the short punt and long return that led to Centralâ€™s go-ahead score.
Papazian was generally pleased with the defensive effort as well as the fact that the Rams were able to battle back from adversity over the final minutes to hang on to win.
â€śWe stuck together and we responded in the right way,â€ť he said. â€śNewington is a much improved team and they showed that [Friday night]. This is a big win for us against a pretty good team.â€ť