BRISTOL - In most years, the time in the locker room after the final game is a bittersweet one, win or lose as seniors stop in to say thanks and farewell to the coaches and underclassmen turn in their uniforms before heading home to their families and Thanksgiving Dinner.
But this year it was different. The uniforms stayed in the lockers and instead of good bye and thank you it was “see you tomorrow” and “what time do we need to be here?” as players filed out of the locker room and headed home to celebrate their sixth consecutive Thanksgiving Day win.
Bristol Central’s football team will be heading for the playoffs for the first time in more than 30 and preparations for Tuesday night’s encounter with Maloney have already begun.
Central went into Thursday’s game believing that they had already clinched a berth in the playoffs after word was spread following Thames River’s win over Quinebaug Wednesday night. In reality, the Rams were still 5 points short of a clinch, but that became moot when the Rams posted their win over Bristol Eastern.
“ It was a little weird, knowing that we had already clinched,” said coach Jeff Papazian. “But it was a great weight off my shoulders when the word went out Wednesday night. Not to take anything away from this game but it became all about beating them and not about getting in”
As Thursday’s game results came into the CIAC, Central’s position fluctuated with each posted result, In the end the Rams settled in as the sixth seed and will play Maloney in the opening round on Tuesday night.
Papazian is OK with having to face the Spartans despite their impressive season in the CCC Tier 1.
“It is interesting that our last scrimmage in the preseason was against Maloney at Falcon Field,” Papazian said. “And now we’re going back there for game 11. They are a great team and a great program. Kevin (Frederick) does a really good job over there. We are going to have to play really well on Tuesday night, but I think our kids will be more comfortable going against a team they have seen before.”
This year was the first time in 62 years that Maloney was not on the Rams’ regular season schedule due to the new CCC Tier system. But now the familiar foes will once against get to square off in a meaningful game.
Leading the Rams into the fray will be the two players who earned the Thomas R. Monahan Player of the Game Awards on Thursday morning.
Victor Rosa is the unquestioned leader of the Rams’ offense. The state’s leader in rushing yards and touchdowns is always quick to point to the players in front of him. “My line really came out ready to play today,” he said. “It feels great to get the win today and I’m looking forward to us really turning it up in the playoffs.
Dan Lauretti was also complementary of the players around him after earning the defensive player of the game award.
“Everyone filled in and did his job today,” said Lauretti. “The Linebackers, the safeties, the guys beside me on the (offensive) line. We had a game plan for them to score no touchdowns and after they scored that first one, we all locked in and did our job. My team relies on me to make the plays and we went out there and really tuned it in today.”
Papazian agreed with his senior captain.
“I thought we played really smart defensively,” said Papazian. “We had a plan to try to be pretty balanced. Looking back at what happened two years ago their trade stuff really hurt us and we worked hard on that. We covered our gaps and we tackled really well today. We knew that if we could get up by two scores that their offense would have a hard time getting back into it because of the way they like to grind it out and take up time.”
It will take another strong defensive effort and more against an explosive Maloney offense that has put up 297 points playing against a mostly Class LL schedule. But, the Spartans are a familiar foe and the Rams expect to be ready.
It will be third playoff appearance for Bristol Central. The Rams lost the Class L championship to Darien n 1979 and the Class MM title game to Middletown in 1987.