BRISTOL - Ryan Rodriguez intercepted a pass with 53 seconds left in the game to cap a 21-20 comeback win for the Bristol Central Rams Friday night at the BC Turf Field.
Central trailed at the half and was down by a touchdown early in the final period before putting together a big drive to score with seven minutes left in the game. Kevin Tovar-Rivera kicked the game-winning extra point and the Rams' defense held on down the stretch to pull out the team's fourth straight win.
The loss was the first in division play for Platt (6-2 overall) and knocked the Panthers out of sole possession of the divisional lead. Central, Maloney and Platt now share the lead with one game remaining for each team. Central improved to 5-3 overall, 3-1 in the division.
It was a rough start for the Rams on Friday night as they could get nothing going offensively in the opening half. Costly penalties and missed assignments led to a dismal first half effort as the Rams were forced to punt four times and netted just 35 yards on the ground.
The one bright spot for Central was a 47-yard touchdown pass from Justus Fitzpatrick to Nate Rosa midway through the second period that allowed them to go into the half with points on the board.
It was a different team that came out in the second half. The Rams put together two long touchdown drives and came up big defensively when it was needed most.
"I'm really proud of these kids tonight," said coach Jeff Papazian. "As bad as we played and as many mistakes as we made in that first half, it was still a one-score game at halftime. We told the kids at halftime that they had 24 minutes to really sell out and give it everything they had on the field and I think they did that tonight."
Neither team was able to score in a sloppy first period. The Rams went three and out on both possessions and Platt's one march toward the goal line was ended by Victor Rosa's interception at the 10-yard line.
The Panthers finally got on the board early in the second period after a big 15-yard penalty against the Rams on a third and 20 play set them up in business deep in Central territory. Jake Baker caught a 6-yard pass from Lorenzo Sanson for the score, but the extra point kick was missed and that would eventually prove to be the difference.
Central's offensive woes continued into the second period until Fitzpatrick found Rosa on a deep route for a 47-yard scoring strike. Tovar-Rivera kicked the extra point for a 7-6 Central lead.
The lead was short-lived, however, as the Panthers put together a late march fueled by a couple of big pass completions including a 30-yard touchdown strike from Sanson to Treymane Carter. The two-point conversion catch made it 14-7 in favor of Platt at the half.
The Rams came out firing after stopping Platt on its first possession of the second half. Darrell Payton opened the drive with a big 40 yard run and Fitzpatrick kept it going by pushing the pile forward for 17 yards and a first down. Payton eventually scored on a four yard run and Tovar-Rivera kicked the extra point to tie the game with 4 minutes left in the third.
"Justus carrying the pile for those extra ten yards was a huge play in this game," said Papazian. "It got everyone fired up and you could feel the momentum begin to shift after that play. That play turned the game and it was all on effort."
Platt took a 20-14 lead to open the fourth period when Sanson connected on his third touchdown pass of the night, this time an 10-yard toss to Carter. With the first period extra point missed kick still fresh, the Platt coaching staff elected to go for two. The pass attempt fell short, opening the door for the Central comeback.
The game winning drive featured a 38 yard gain by Fitzpatrick and huge catch for a first down by Victor Rosa at the two yard line after a penalty had set the Rams back 15 yards. Fitzpatrick took it in from the one and Tovar-Rivera kicked the game winning extra point with 7:09 left on the clock.
But it took two defensive stands to make the lead standup. The Rams stopped Platt on downs with 4:30 left in the game and ran the clock down to the 1:22 mark after picking up a couple of first downs before punting the ball back to the Panthers.
Starting at their own 18 yard line and with only a minute left and no time outs, Platt was able to run only two plays before Rodriguez intercepted the pass and ran it back to the four yard line. The Rams ran out the clock for the win.
After stumbling to just 35 yards and only one first down in the opening half, the Central offense put it together in the second half for 177 yards, eight big first downs and a pair of touchdowns. Fitzpatrick and Payton each had big runs in the half and each came just shy of the 100 yard rushing mark. Fitzpatrick carried 18 times for 95 yards. Payton had 16 carries for 99 yards. Fitzpatrick completed just two of five passes for 77 yards and a touchdown.
Sanson had a solid passing game for Platt but was intercepted twice in the red zone. He completed 11 or 16 passes for 132 yards and three touchdowns. Sean Bell, Jr. led the Platt rushing effort with 16 carries for 64 yards after starting tailback Roberto Salas left the game with a second period injury.
"This was huge win for us," said Papazian. "I'm really happy for the seniors who went out winners in their last game on the school field. It's a heck of a way for them to finish off their careers here. It was a big win for the whole team. Offense, defense, special teams - everybody had a hand in this one."
"There were lots of time tonight when we could have folded up, but we didn't," he added. "Penalties, missed tackles, inadvertent whistles - all of those things could have done us in but we hung in there. We'll take some time to enjoy this one and then it's on to East Catholic."
Bristol Central 21, Platt 20
At Bristol Central High School
Platt 0 14 0 6 - 20
Central 0 7 7 7 - 21
P - Jake Carter, 6 pass from Lorenzo Sanson (kick failed) 11:14
BC - Nate Rosa, 47 pass from Justus Fitzpatrick (Kevin Tovar-Rivera kick), 9:35
P - Treymane Carter, 30 pass from Sanson (Baker pass from Sanson), 2:15
BC - Darrell Payton, 4 run (Tovar-Rivera kick), 3:53
P - Carter, 10 pass from Sanson (pass failed), 10:42
BC - Fitzpatrick, 1 run (Tovar-Rivera kick), 7:09
Rushing: Platt - Roberto Salas 8-15, Sean Bell, Jr. 16-64, Chase Bessler 1-15, Lorenzo Sanson 5-6, Treymane Carter 3-9. Bristol Central - Justus Fitzpatrick 18-95, Darrell Payton 16-99, Victor Rosa 1-1, Jose Navedo 1-1.
Passing: Platt - Sanson 11-16-2 for 132 yds, Central - Fitzpatrick 2-5-0 for 64 yards.
Receiving: Platt - Sean Bell 5-45, Carter 5-85, Fred D'Aniello 1-5. Central - Nate Rosa 1-47, Victor Rosa 1-17.