BRISTOL - A year ago the Bristol Central football team traveled to Falcon Field in Meriden to take on Platt in a crucial CCC Division-II West showdown.
That night the Rams used a punt return and an interception for a touchdown to seal a victory in a tightly fought battle that went back and forth all night.
Tonight, the Panthers come to Bristol and the teams expect to pick up where they left a year ago with two high-powered offenses squaring off against each with first place in the division on the line.
The Panthers are 6-1 and have won three in a row since a tough overtime loss at Windsor. The Rams (4-3) have also win three in a row after struggling through the tough part of their schedule and are expecting another tough matchup.
“It’s another challenging opponent for us,” Central head coach Jeff Papazian said. “Platt’s 6-1 for a reason, they are a really good football team that has had its share of big wins this season.”
Papazian sees a lot of similarities between the Panthers and his team. Both rely primarily on the running game to control the pace of the game, but both have a quarterback that can put the ball in the air if he has to.
“This will be another big test for our defense,” Papazian said. “[Our defense has] played pretty well all season and we need them to step it up for a couple more weeks.”
The Rams will come into tonight’s game as close to full strength as they have been in more than a month and that should be a big help, especially on the defensive side.
Central been bitten by the injury bug the past few weeks, but with Jakob Salinas expected to be back in the lineup for tonight’s game, the Rams will have most of their injured starters back in the lineup.
Offensively, Central has put together a couple of big outings in recent games and Papazian will be looking to continue and even improve on that effort tonight.
“Offensively the stats have started to come together,” he said. “A lot of that can be attributed to the offensive line that has gotten better bit by bit each week. Last week we were able to get Darrell [Payton] going and that really opened things up for us.”
Payton rushed for 169 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries in his best performance of the season last week. Quarterback Justus Fitzpatrick also had another big night as he scored two touchdowns and threw for another and combined for 197 yards in total offense.
“Every week Justus gets more comfortable in the quarterback position,” Papazian said. “Last week he had those two big pass completions to Nate (Rosa). He’s shown that he can throw the ball so the other teams have to be at least thinking about the possibility.”
Papazian also noted the solid all around performance of Rosa, another player whose continued improvement has been a big factor in the Rams’ newfound offensive success. Rosa caught a pass for 64 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter last Friday night and later came up with a another big 3rd-down catch that kept a drive alive and allowed the Rams to run out the clock. But Papazian is looking at more than the pass catching ability of the lanky wide receiver.
“Nate made a great effort on those two deep balls,” Papazian said, “but he really blocked his tail off for most of the rest of the night. He helped to seal off the edge and that kind of play can turn a two- or three-yard gain into a 12- or 13-yarder. That kind of play from Nate has been huge.”
The Rams will look for another strong effort from the offense as they hope to control the pace by keeping the ball away from the talented Panther backs.
“It’s a big game for the division lead.” Papazian said. “It’s great to be playing a meaningful game in November. This is what you work for through all those preseason practices.”