BRISTOL - Dathan Hickey scored two long fourth quarter touchdowns and the Bristol Central Rams held on for a 33-27 victory over Bristol in the 59th annual Battle for the Bell Thursday at Muzzy Field.
Hickey’s touchdown off a broken tackle and cut-back with five minutes left in the game broke a 21-21 tie and propelled the Rams to their third straight win in the Thanksgiving series. His scamper down the sidelines with 1:29 remaining sealed the win for the Rams.
Hickey carried the ball 28 times for 333 yards and four touchdowns to earn Bristol Central’s Offensive Player of the Game award. And the Rams needed all of his efforts to pull out the win over a Lancers team that gave them all they could handle and more.
“Hats off to Bristol Eastern,” Central coach Jeff Papazian said. “They played us really tough for the better part of four quarters. That’s what they’ve done all year. But our kids have been in games like this all year, and that’s a big part of what helped us pull this one out. We told the kids that they’ve got to be able to handle the roller coaster of emotions in a game like this with all the highs and the lows and for the most part we did a pretty good job of staying even keeled out there.”
The Lancers answered every Central score except the last one and were very much in the game until the final minute. The game was tied after three quarters and the Lancers had the ball and a chance to pull ahead in the closing minutes before Hickey’s final score put the game out of reach.
“Our kids fought and kept battling all day long,” Bristol Eastern coach Anthony Julius said. “They kept answering and coming back and I’m really proud of their effort.”
Hickey was the dominant force on the field for the Rams. He led the Rams to a score on their first possession and added three long touchdown runs in the second half to wrap up the second most productive offensive day in the long history of the Battle for the Bell.
“Dathan is a big time player and big time players are supposed to step up and make big plays in big games,” Papazian said. “And he did it against a defense that was designed specifically to shut him down. He battled all day and he came up big when we needed it most.”
The Rams took the opening kickoff and marched 82 yards in 13 plays, all on the ground, to take a 7-0 lead midway through the opening period. Hickey and Darrell Payton shared the running duties.
But the Lancers quickly showed it was not going to be the cakewalk for the Rams that many had expected. On Eastern’s first play from scrimmage quarterback Justin Marshall found a wide open receiver in Elijah Gagliardo, who was finally dragged down at the 8 yard line. One play later, Ariza Kolloverja tied the game for the Lancers with an 8-yard run.
Eastern had a drive that could have given it the lead at the close of the first period, but Central’s Jose Navedo picked off a pass at the goal line to end the threat and neither team was able to get much offense going until Hickey broke off a long run on third down for the Rams to set them up deep in Eastern territory. With his team facing another third down later in the drive, Justus Fitzpatrick found a seam and broke free for a 29-yard run and a 14-7 lead for the Rams they carried into halftime.
Eastern countered quickly as the third period began when Gagliardo intercepted a Hickey pass and returned it to the 12 yard line. Two plays later Steven Hopkins went in from the two to tie the score.
Hickey wasted little time in putting the Rams ahead once again with a 52-yard run, breaking free up the middle and out-running the defense.
But Eastern continued to peck away at the Central defense with a long drive that included 4-for-4 passing by Marshall and ended with a 9-yard run by Jaden Laprise. John McPhee’s extra point tied the score at 21-21.
The Lancers took over again at their own 21 as the final period began and put together another long march, driving to the Central 22 before the drive finally stalled.
It took Hickey just two plays to give his team the lead for good. On second down at the 25, Eastern’s defense appeared to have the speedster bottled up in the backfield. But he shook off a tackle, cut back to the opposite sideline and ran 75 yards to break the tie with five minutes left in the game.
“That big play on the cut-back was huge,” Papazian said. “It was still very much a back and forth game at that point.”
The Rams missed the extra point and gave the Lancers an opening as they put together yet another drive. But this one sputtered at the Central 40 and the Rams took over with the lead and just under two minutes to play.
A penalty put Central back at their own 25. Then Hickey sealed the game with another 75-yard scamper down the sideline.
“We were just happy to give the ball to Dathan and let him try to get a couple of first downs,” Papazian said. “But he cut to the outside and he was gone”
Marshall led the Lancers on one final drive, scoring on a 9-yard pass to Kolloverja as time expired.
Marshall had a very strong game for Eastern. The junior quarterback completed 18 of 28 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown. He was intercepted once. Gagliardo caught eight passes for 92 yards and Jaden Laprise hauled in seven for 58. Kolloverja was Eastern’s leading rusher and earned his team’s Offensive Player of the Game award with 72 yards rushing, 25 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
The Lancers put up 309 yards in total offense in the contest, much of it coming in three and four yard intervals.
“Our kids battled on offense all day,” Julius said. “Our offensive line did a really good job against their front and they’re a good defense.”
And even though his team gave up 435 yards of offense, Julius was generally pleased with the defensive effort.
“The defense you got to give them all the credit in the world,” Julius said. “Their offense is a load to handle, especially on the ground. They come at you with a lot of different plays and a lot of different angles and when you have two kids as explosive as Hickey and Fitzpatrick you’re going to have your hands full.”
The Rams had 438 yards on the ground and completed just one pass for negative yardage. Hickey led the way with 333 yards. Fitzpatrick picked up 65 yards on just two carries and Darrell Payton added 39 yards on seven carries. The Rams did not pick up a first down in the second half against the Eastern defense but scored three times and had 227 yards.
Gagliardo, who had the big interception, was the Defensive Player of the Game for Eastern. Devon Dawson led a solid effort by the Central defensive line and earned the Defensive Player award for the Rams.
Central finished the season with a five game win streak and a 7-3 overall record. The Rams finished second in the CCC Division II-West, losing out on a chance to tie for the title when Maloney beat Platt Thursday morning.
Eastern finishes the season 2-8.