BRISTOL - In a game in which there was not a lot of defense, it took a defensive stand in the final minute of play for Bristol Central to preserve a 35-28 victory over Capital Prep/Achievement First Friday night at Bristol Central.
The Rams appeared headed for victory after recovering a late fumble and were running out the clock and driving deep into Capital Prep territory when the Longhorns intercepted a fourth down pass with 1:48 to play and returned it to midfield. Capital Prep quarterback Kyle Zajack quickly drove his team down to the Rams’ 32 yard line with 45 seconds left before the Central defense stepped up. A sack by Isak Gonzalez and another big tackle for loss by Frankie Jenkins drove the visitors back to the 44 and a pass completion on fourth down came up a few yards short as the Rams held on for the win.
“I’m really proud of my team,” said coach Jeff Papazian. “That is a very good team we beat tonight and it’s a credit to the kids. They’ve stuck to whatever it is we are trying to do and they believed in themselves. As proud as hell of these kids tonight.”
“That interception was a big momentum changer,” Papazian said, “but the kids responded when things weren’t going their way. The defense made some huge stops when we needed them most.”
Most of Friday’s game was an offensive show featuring the running game of the Rams against the passing attack of Capital Prep. It was a back and forth game all night and the Rams did not take the lead for good until midway through the fourth quarter.
Central put up a season high 412 yards in total offense as the offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage. Darrell Payton and Justus Fitzpatrick each rushed for over 100 yards behind some outstanding blocking. Payton had 137 yards on 16 carries and Fitzpatrick rushed for a career high 131 yards and a touchdown on nine carries.
Zajack completed 17 of 26 passes for 284 yards for Capital Prep, but Papazian was generally pleased with the defensive effort against a premier quarterback. “We had a bend but don’t break attitude,” he said. “I’m sure he put up some big numbers, but he didn’t complete a big one against us. For the most part we held our own. He had a whole bunch of completions, but he didn’t break a big one.”
The Rams set the tone of the game off the opening kickoff, driving 65 yards on seven running plays to put the game’s first points on the board. Dathan Hickey scored from two yards out and Damar Hamilton kicked the extra point to put the Rams on top 7-0.
“That first drive in the first quarter was big,” said Papazian. “It started the momentum in the right direction and I think the kids truly started to believe they could get it done after that drive.”
It took Capital Prep only three plays to counter the first score as Khyon Gillespie broke loose for a 47 yard run on the first play from scrimmage and Zajack hit John Edwards for a nine yard scoring strike. But the Longhorns missed the extra point and the Rams held a 7-6 lead.
Central got the first of several breaks in the game on Prep’s next drive when Ryan Rodriguez and Jacob Salinas rushed in to block a punt and Dom Va scooped it up and ran it in from 28 yards to put the Rams up 14-6.
Capital Prep tied the score on the last play of the opening quarter on a nine yard run by Gillespie and a two point conversion pass from Zajack to Anthony Benefield.
Central regained the lead on a one yard run by Hickey and a Hamilton kick midway through the second period, but the Longhorns countered again with a quick strike as Gillespie scored again from nine yards and Benefield caught the conversion pass.
The Longhorns led 22-21 at the half after Fitzpatrick intercepted in the end zone to thwart a late drive.
Central got another big break two plays into the second half when Gillespie fumbled the ball away at midfield. A 41 yard run by Payton set the Rams up deep in Longhorn territory and Fitzpatrick took it in the final 14 yards. The extra point was missed but the Rams led 27-22.
Zajack completed a 16 yard touchdown pass to Jaden Simmons late in the third period to put Capital Prep on top once again but the Rams countered with their longest drive of the night, a nine play time consuming drive that ended with an 11 yard scoring run by Hickey. Hickey ran for two for a 35-28 lead and the defense made it stand up with a fumble recovery to end one drive and the big sacks in the closing minute to stop the final threat.
“This was a big win for our program,” said Papazian, “a signature win against a team that has a lot of very good athletes. We’ve played some very good team this year and this was one of them. It feels real good to come away with a win.”