BRISTOL - For one team, it was business as usual, for the other, it was a last-minute adjustment to a style of play it had not used much, if at all, this season.
Running the ball was the focal point of both Bristol Central and Bristol Eastern’s offense this year, but until the two teams met Thursday, their rushing attacks looked noticeably different. The Rams amassed a 9-1 record this season behind the running of senior Victor Rosa, the UConn commit who spent his high school career carrying the ball directly from the quarterback position.
For the Lancers, the ground game featured senior running back Alex Marshall, who traditionally took handoffs after a teammate received the snap. But Marshall found himself getting the ball directly from his center during Eastern’s season finale as his team was without both of its starting quarterbacks for this game.
Already lacking an element of surprise under normal circumstances, as opposing teams stacked the line of scrimmage all season against Eastern knowing Marshall was getting the ball the vast majority of the time, giving the ball directly to Marshall without an intermediary did not manifest the same success the Lancers have seen most of this year.
Marshall finished with 88 rushing yards on 32 attempts and completed four out of nine passes for 43 yards and two interceptions as the Lancers fell to the crosstown rivals 38-8. He proved his capabilities as a passer two weeks prior against Farmington when he converted a 17-yard two-point attempt on a running back pass, and brought that same confidence to Muzzy Field on Thanksgiving morning as he took on his greatest challenge of the season in the final game of his high school career.
“He did a great job, he managed the offense,” Eastern head coach Anthony Julius said. “He made some nice throws and ran the ball well. He took advantage of some of the things they gave us and I can’t say enough about his effort. He’s been our primetime guy all year and he showed it again [Thursday].”
Conversely, Central’s offense was comfortable in the sets it ran all year en route to posting 38 points behind Rosa’s 282 rushing yards and five total touchdowns. The Lancers’ defense competed all game and made several difficult tackles, but the Rams’ posed too many challenges and found an offensive rhythm later in the contest.
“We knew Alex was going to have the ball in his hands a lot and they knew I was going to have the ball in my hands a lot, as well, and we came out and got it done,” Rosa said.
Eastern showed it could find success within its new style of offense with an appropriate amount of time to practice it, but debuting it in the Lancers’ final game of the season and against their biggest rival presented some obvious struggles. They tried to build long, methodical drives to take time off the clock and keep the ball away from Central’s offense, but lacked the consistency to move the ball upfield as they wanted.
“They would’ve been content with [gaining] four yards per play and keeping the chains moving,” Central coach Jeff Papazian said. “Fortunately, we were able to neutralize that.”
While not seeing Eastern’s preferred approach to this game, the Rams’ repeatedly won at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The Lancers were unable to create the running holes for Marshall it normally does while Central’s blockers succeeded in setting the edge for Rosa to break longer runs on the outside.
Eastern moved the ball well on its first drive of the game, when it scored its lone touchdown. But the Rams settled in and adjusted to keep the Lancers off the board for the rest of the game.
“[Marshall] is a great back, he’s obviously the focus of their offense,” Papazian said. “Up front, I thought we really established [ourselves] well after that first drive. They were really able to bottle him up.”
This matchup was expected to be a battle of two talented runners, but it was not expected to be the battle of two running quarterbacks. Central succeeded in capitalizing on its style of play while Eastern continued its message of making the most out of what it had available. The result may not have changed, but this game would’ve looked noticeably different if the Lancers had their full complement of offensive starters.
“You know what they’re going to do, they’ve done it all year and it’s worked so why wouldn’t they continue to do it,” Julius said. “For us, we had to maximize our potential with who we had in the lineup and some guys really stepped up. Nate Shorette made a nice play on the reverse, Conor McCormick had some nice catches and Alex did what Alex does, he runs hard. The offensive line did a really nice job at times.”
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org.