BRISTOL - When a team wins a football game by one point there are a lot of factors that go into the victory. And that's exactly what happened for the Bristol Central football team in its 21-20 win over Platt Friday night.
It was a great all-around team effort punctuated by a series of outstanding individual plays that led the Rams to their fourth consecutive win and into a share of the CCC Division II-West lead heading into the final two weeks of the season.
"This was a huge win for us," Central head coach Jeff Papazian said. "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."
The defense battled all night to keep them to 20 points which is well under what they've been getting all season, Papazian noted. Highlighting that defensive effort was the game-ending interception by Ryan Rodriguez in the final minute that sealed the win for the Rams. But there were many other key plays in the hard fought win.
"Ryan Rodriguez was battling all night long," Papazian said. "Austin Collins was banged up, but he kept fighting and did a great job. Isak [Gonzalez] had a big sack when we really needed it and Victor Rosa's pick in the first half kept them off the board."
Offensively, the Rams struggled mightily in the first half, but turned it around over the final 24 minutes to pull out the victory.
"I thought Darrell Payton really turned it up and ran real hard in the second half," Papazian said. "Nate Rosa came up with that huge touchdown catch in the first half to keep us in the game and it was a real big play by Victor that really saved the game."
Victor Rosa came up with a catch at the 2-yard line to give Central a first down and keep the drive that would lead to the game-tying touchdown alive in the fourth quarter. The play was especially big because it came after a penalty had set the team back into a third and long situation.
But with all of the great individual efforts, probably the biggest contribution came from kicker Kevin Tovar-Rivera, who in his second varsity game, calmly kicked three balls through the uprights in a swirling steady mist for the extra points that provided the margin of victory.
"For Kevin to go 3-for-3 three on extra points in only his second game was just huge," Papazian said, "especially on the last one that ended up being the game winner. All three of them were high-pressure shots and he came through."
The early part of the game was marred by penalties and miscues that kept the Rams off balance throughout the opening half. Central was penalized seven times for 72 yards in the first 24 minutes.
One of those penalties turned an apparent defensive stop on downs into a 3rd-and-5 play at the Rams’ 13-yard line and eventually led to Platt's first touchdown. Late in the half, an interference call on a fair catch added 15 yards to Platt's forward progress and eventually led to a touchdown that gave the Panthers a 14-7 halftime lead.
Central managed just 35 yards rushing and one first down and completed only one pass in the first half. That completion, however, was the 47-yard toss from Justus Fitzpatrick to Nate Rosa for the Rams' only score of the half.
After Central had regained momentum in the second half, it suffered another setback when an apparent fumble recovery was nullified by an inadvertent whistle. The Rams recovered from that one to force a turnover on downs and were able to run out most of the clock.
"There were lots of times [Friday] when we could have folded up, but we didn't," Papazian said. "Penalties, missed tackles, inadvertent whistles - all of those things could have done us in, but we hung in there. I'm really proud of the way these kids reacted."
The Rams finished the night with 259 yards in total offense after a slow start. Payton was the leading rusher with 99 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Fitzpatrick rushed for 95 yards and a touchdown and completed 2-for-5 passes for 64 yards and a score.
With the win the Rams improved to 5-3, assuring themselves of at least a .500 season for the fifth year in a row. Central is now tied with Platt and Maloney at 3-1 in the division with one divisional game left. Platt and Maloney will play each other on Thanksgiving and the winner will claim at least a share of the title. The Rams could tie for the crown with a victory in the Battle for the Bell.
The Rams will travel to Manchester next Saturday afternoon to take on East Catholic.