While Bristol Central sophomore quarterback Victor Rosa made an impressive debut with a three-touchdown performance in the Rams’ opening day win over E.O. Smith, it was the defensive effort that was most impressive.
The Rams dominated on the defensive side of the ball, forcing highly regarded running back Mekhi Hayden to struggle for every yard gained.
Coach Jeff Papazian had cited his team’s defense as a strength in a preseason assessment and the squad more than lived up to its billing on Friday night.
With interceptions by Ian Staubley and Tre Jones and a defensive line that was in control of the line of scrimmage all night long, it was a tough struggle for the E.O. Smith offensive unit.
The Panthers managed just 16 yards in total offense in the first half and their lone first down in the opening half came via the penalty route.
While the Panthers enjoyed a bit more success moving the ball in the second half, by that time the Rams had a 20-point lead and were playing to prevent the big play that could have vaulted the Panthers back into the contest.
“We did a really good job limiting them on defense for the better part of the game,” said coach Jeff Papazian. “They had that one third quarter drive, but by then we were bending and not breaking, just trying not to give up the big play.”
“In the first half we really bottled them up,” Papazian said. “Jake Salinas played really well (at linebacker) and Dan (Lauretti), (Erik) Facey and Adrian (Ortiz) did a pretty good job of controlling the line.”
The Panthers had four three-and-out series in the opening half. Their only first down came midway through the second period and that was immediately followed by Staubley’s interception to kill the drive.
In the second half, E.O. Smith made a quarterback change and gave Hayden a little more running room in the backfield to open up the attack a bit more.
They were able to drive to the Central 34 off the opening kickoff before the drive stalled and finally put together their only scoring drive after recovering a fumble late in the third. That led to a touchdown with eight minutes left that was too little and too late against a Central defense that dominated the game all night long.
The interception by Jones came late in the game and sealed the victory for the Rams, who were able to run out the clock.
E.O. Smith quarterbacks were able to complete just six of 13 passes for 25 yards. Hayden finished the night with 81 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, but the speedster had only one gain of more than six yards as the defense keyed on him all night long.
“Overall I thought the secondary did a pretty good job,” Papazian noted. “Ian had a big-time pick in the first half when the game was still in doubt and Tre was exactly where he was coached to be on his interception that sealed the deal for us. He did a great job on that play.”
Offensively the Rams were, in Papazian’s words, “efficient.”
Rosa rushed for 168 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries. Shawn Rodriguez netted 52 yards and scored and Galen Hickey carried for 37 as the Rams relied solely on their ground game to control the clock and eat up yardage.