BRISTOL - Last year was the first time Muzzy Field was empty on Thanksgiving in more than 60 years as the historic rivalry between Bristol Eastern and Bristol Central, like all Connecticut football in 2020, was put on hold.
This year, the Lancers and Rams return to the newly-renovated stadium to close out their 2021 football campaigns and ring in Thanksgiving the only way Bristol knows how.
Both teams enter this game with lofty stakes as Central tries to solidify its best possible postseason position for the Class L state tournament while Eastern is looking to finish its season with a .500 record and prove its better than its number in the loss column by competing with one of the top teams in the state.
Both teams enter this game well-rested, with nearly two weeks since their last game, with each side also coming off one of their biggest wins of the season. The Rams shutout Plainville 46-0 a couple of weeks ago and the Lancers posted their highest point total of the season in a 54-22 win over Farmington.
Everyone in this matchup is expecting greater challenges in this as they both bring potent running attacks and capable defenses, which makes the focus for both teams rather straightforward.
Central is led by senior quarterback and UConn-commit Victor Rosa, who has 2,316 rushing yards through nine games this season while Eastern’s senior running back Alex Marshall has 1,638 yards in nine games. The goal for the Lancers: limit Rosa’s opportunities while maximizing Marshall’s chances.
“Bristol Central is clearly a high-powered offense,” Eastern head coach Anthony Julius said. “Everyone believes it’s all about Victor, and he’s a great player, but they have a lot of other really good pieces on offense. They’re really good up front, they have good skill players to compliment Victor. For us to have success we need to make sure we’re aligned properly and tackling is a huge thing. If you watch Central’s film, they break a lot of tackles. They’re hard runners, and we need to be able to match that level defensively.”
Eastern’s defense is allowing an average of just more than 20 points per game, which would be a success against Central as the Rams scored more than 30 points in six consecutive games.
While Central’s defense is playing better as of late, conversely, the Rams have been susceptible to allowing large point totals that the Lancers will look to take advantage of. Julius does think lightly of the Rams defense and knows they are capable of capitalizing on mistakes if his team makes any.
“I think they’re a sound defense,” Julius said. “They’ve had a couple games where there are some scores that jump off the paper a little bit, but if you look at them collectively as a whole throughout the year they’ve played pretty good defense. They have good players on that side of the ball and for us to be successful we’re going to have to execute our assignments.”
While the numbers over the previous nine games this season tell a large part of the story, much of that does not apply for rivalry games. 2019’s game went to overtime for the first time since 2006 as Marshall and Rosa dueled it out in a 34-32 contest between a fledgling Central team and a struggling Eastern squad.
The Lancers last win in this rivalry came in 2014 as the Rams ride a five-game winning streak. With two weeks of much-need rest and preparation, both sides are ready to play like it is their final game of the year, which for Eastern it will be.
“The kids feel it, you can tell,” Julius said. “It’s a different buzz, it’s a different week of practice, there’s a lot on the line for both teams. The pressure is always on in this game and I think that’s why you see some of the best football you see all year from both teams. It means a lot to these kids, it means a lot to this community and it’s a cool thing to be a part of.”
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org.