The bye week came at just the right time for the Bristol Central football team.
The week off gave the Rams some time to enjoy their 4-1 start to the 2021 season. It provided time to reflect on a first half of ups and downs that were mostly positive but not up to the expectations of a team that the coaching staff feels has yet to unleash its full potential.
The time away was a chance to recover from some of the nagging injuries of a long first half. It provided the opportunity to work on the fundamentals, especially on the defensive end where the Rams were sorely deficient in their last outing. And it provided time to prepare for a Tolland team that should provide another stiff test for the Rams at home tonight.
“We’re 4-1 at the halfway point,” said coach Jeff Papazian, “and two points away from being undefeated. You have to be pleased with what we’ve been able to do over the first half.”
“On the other hand, we have yet to play a complete game for four quarters,” he said. “There have been times when we looked really good and times when our athletes have carried us through some rough spots. And there have been times when we’ve looked like we never played football before”
“We’ve had a couple of good days (during the bye week) where we were able to spend some time going over the fundamentals that will help us going into the second half,” Papazian added. “We’re 4-1 and we’ve had a good first half but we know we can be a lot better and we’ve been able to use this time to work on the things we need to get to that level.”
Among the highlights for the Rams in the early going has been the play of some of the younger players who have stepped into key roles.
“We’ve said it before that our juniors had only played freshman football and the sophomores had never played at the high school level. So this first half has been a real learning experience and we’ve had some guys really come though and play key roles,” said Papazian.
Among those is tight end Mason Stokes who has improved with each game
“He’s come a long way since the start of the season,” said Papazian. “Our perimeter game is a big part of our offense and Mason has become a key at making it go.”
Sophomore Jack Jones has also been a key contributor. Jones stepped into the starting center role after the Rams struggled to get the snap to the quarterback in the opening loss at Bloomfield and has become a mainstay on the offensive line despite weighing in at 5-9 and 165.
“He’s become a really steady performer since stepping into that spot, “said Papazian. “He’s done a real good job to help solidify our offensive line.”
Luis Padilla is another sophomore who has stepped into a key role on the line. As a defensive tackle, he “has gotten better with each game and will continue to get better,” according to his coach.
Anthony Paulino is a newcomer who has already earned some game honors with his play in the defensive backfield. With an interception and a fumble recovery to his credit along with some big tackles, the junior transfer has become a great addition for the Rams.
“He just moved here and he’s still learning the system,” said Papazian. “He got thrown into the fire against Farmington and he really held his own. He will continue to get more time as the season goes on.”
In addition to his defensive play, Paulino found his way into the offense, catching a two-point conversion pass against Hartford Public.
The Rams also got a boost in the Hartford Public win from running back Justin Despins who had his first 100-yard game and first rushing touchdown against the Owls and Tre Blair who caught four passes for 112 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 77 more as the Rams mixed it up a little on offense.
Victor Rosa remains the main force offensively, however. The senior UConn commit has rushed for 1,156 yards and 18 touchdowns in five game while completing 21 passes for 345 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Rosa has accounted for 136 of Central’s 148 points scored this year, either on the ground or through the air.
The Rams move into the second half of the season tonight at home against Tolland. The Eagles come into the game after a disappointing 7-3 loss to Avon last week. They are 3-2 and had shown the ability to put points in the board until they stumbled last week. But they will be another stiff test for a Central defense that has struggled at times and will provide a good opportunity for Central to work out some of those defensive issues.
Following tonight’s match with Tolland, the Rams will take on EO Smith (1-4), RHAM (2-3), and Plainville (4-1) before wrapping up the regular season against Bristol Eastern on Thanksgiving. Going into this weekend, Central is ranked eighth in the CIAC Class L playoff rankings, just barely in a qualifying position.
With the weaker half of their schedule in terms of potential bonus points ahead of them in the second half, the Rams will need to keep on winning while hoping that teams currently ahead of them pick up a few losses in order to stay in a qualifying position.