Bristol Central football had a rough start to the 2022 season Friday night. Plagued by turnovers and defensive lapses at the most inopportune times and unable to capitalize on the mistakes of the opponent, the Rams dropped a 21-14 decision to Manchester is a game that was not decided until the final minute.
The Rams turned the ball over three times and gave up two long touchdowns off of broken plays that turned out to be the difference in the contest. Manchester also had three turnovers, including an interception in the end zone as they were driving for a go-ahead score.
“They capitalized on our mistakes,” Central coach Jeff Papazian said. “I can’t say the same for us. All the things you worry about going wrong in an opening game came through tonight. At times our line play was really good on both sides of the ball. But there were plenty of other times when it was not so good. There were just too many major breakdowns.”
Looking for the positives in a generally dismal performance, Papazian noted his defense “created some turnovers in some really big spots. Anthony Paulino’s interception at the time was a really big play because they were driving pretty well at that point and it kept the score tied. Can Tomak had a nice interception in the first half.”
Papazian was also generally pleased with the effort of quarterback Nik Salinas in his varsity debut.
“I think Nik gave us all he had,” Papazian said. “He did all of the things we asked and we expect he will continue to improve.”
Salinas scored the Rams first touchdown on an 8-yard run and threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Carmelo Thompson late in the game to account for both Central scores. Keeping with the Central tradition of running quarterbacks, he called his own number 12 times and completed three of seven passes for 62 yards and a score.
One of the big positives for the Rams was the kicking game, especially in light of the lack of a kicker that the Rams have suffered over the years. Kenny Whitford kicked the ball through the uprights after both touchdowns as the Rams matched their extra point kick total of a year ago after the first two scores.
Oscar Kuzniar also gave the Rams a boost as all three of his kickoffs sailed to the end zone or beyond, a big change for the Rams’ fans who were used to the kicks barely reaching midfield. Some defensive breakdowns allowed Manchester’s Arlon Poteat to have an apparent return of 97 yards to start the second half. It was called back by a penalty behind the play and overall the kicking game gave the Rams strong field position all night long.
Defensively, the Rams have much to work on before they travel to South Windsor on Friday afternoon. Missed assignments and occasional missed tackles allowed the RedHawks to make some big gains in long yardage situations.
“We had them in double stakes position numerous times and we allowed them to scramble and get out of it,” said Papazian. “We had some breakdowns at really bad times and we need to get to work to fix those mistakes.”
The interceptions by Paulino and Tomak and a fumble recovery by Luis Padilla were the defensive highlight plays. Padilla had several tackles in the Manchester backfield in the early going and Jack Jones also had a big tackle for loss. But in the end, there were too many times when a runner trapped behind the line of scrimmage was able to get away for a big gain and that proved to be the downfall for the Rams.