MERIDEN - When Bristol Central and Platt squared off on the football field at Falcon Field on Friday night it was typical of the battles between the long time rivals over the years. There was plenty of offense, a few big defensive plays and plenty of fireworks on both sides.
But in the end it was the big play attack by the Rams that sealed the 43-26 win Friday night.
A big 84-yard punt return by Dathan Hickey, one of his five touchdowns on the night, turned the momentum in Central's favor midway through the second quarter and the Rams took advantage of the shift to build a 37-14 lead starting the fourth quarter.
And just when the Panthers appeared to be turning it around with a touchdown and a drive that threatened to cut the margin to a one score gap, Justus Fitzpatrick came up big with a 99-yard interception return to clinch the win with three minutes to go.
"Those were huge plays to swing it our way," Rams head coach Jeff Papazian said. "That punt return for a touchdown was a huge momentum shifter. Another great job by our special teams for the second week in a row."
The Rams controlled the offensive line of scrimmage, opening huge holes for Hickey and Darrell Payton throughout the contest. For the second straight game, the Central offense produced two runners who surpassed the 100 yard mark.
Hickey took advantage of the gaps and his size and speed to rush for 208 yards and four touchdowns including runs of 44, 33 and 17 yards. Payton carried 13 times for 152 yards and a touchdown. He had four runs of over 20 yards in the contest.
Hickey's 208 yards brought his season total just shy of the 1,000-yard mark with two games to play. He has run for 967 yards on the season and his five touchdowns gives him a total of 20 for the season, moving him into a tie for seventh place on the all-time Bristol Central single-season touchdown list. He is tied with Kiernan Thurston (1986) and Doug Jackson (1970).
Defensively, while they gave up a lot of yards, the Rams played well enough to force the Panthers to struggle at times.
"Once again we had a bend but don't break attitude," Papazian said. "We played four solid periods. (E.J. Dudley) got a lot of yards but he didn't break a big one on us. We contained him just enough to put their offense out there in third and fourth down situations for a good part of the night."
Dudley was the only player to carry the ball for Platt until he left with an injury early in the final quarter. He finished with 110 yards on 27 carries. Quarterback Aurelio Marinelli completed 12-of-22 passes for 110 yards and three touchdowns.
But Dudley had only two plays that went for more than 10 yards. His longest was a 16-yard gain on a drive that stalled on downs at the Central 32-yard line early in the second half. The Rams had three quarterback sacks and five tackles for loss while forcing two turnovers.
With the win, the Rams assured themselves of a .500 season for the fourth year in a row and kept alive their slim hopes for a postseason berth.
The Rams are currently 13th in the Class L playoff rankings and while mathematically still alive, with their remaining games against opponents who have a total of two wins between them, there is little hope that the Rams could amass enough points to qualify even if all of the teams ahead of them manage to lose.
The Rams will play their final home game of the season on Thursday night against winless East Catholic.
Bristol Central 43, Platt 26
at Falcon Field, Meriden (Friday)
Bristol Central (5-3) 6 12 13 12 - 43
Platt (4-4) 0 7 7 12 - 26
BC-Dathan Hickey 17 run (kick failed), 3:49
P-Elijah Felton 13 pass from Aurelio Marinelli (Joey Salara kick), 6:23
BC-Hickey 33 run (run failed), 3:46
BC-Hickey, 84 punt return (run failed), 2:04
BC-Darrell Payton, 32 run (Damar Hamlton kick), 10:16
P-Tremayne Carter, 14 pass from Marinelli(Salara kick), 6:57
BC-Hickey 8 run (kick failed), 3:58
BC-Hickey 44 run (kick failed), 11:08
P-Carter 13 pass from Marinelli (kick failed), 8:56
BC-Justus Fitzpatrick 99 return of interception (kick failed), 2:14
P-Zavian Arroyo 7 run (kick failed), 0:56
Rushing-Bristol Central: Dathan Hickey 21-208, Darrell Payton 13-152, Justus Fitzpatrick 2-5. Platt: E.J. Dudley 27-121, Zavian Arroyo 9-62, Aurelio Marinelli 3-(-21).
Passing-Bristol Central: Hickey 0-1-0. Platt: Marinelli 12-22-110-INT.
Receiving-Platt: Devon Gardner 2-6, Elijah Felton 5-49, E.J. Dudley 1-4, Joshua Rodriguez 2-24, Tremayne Carter 2-27.