MIDDLETOWN â€“ The Bristol Eastern football team looked up at the scoreboard after Friday nightâ€™s season opener against Middletown and saw a much different outcome than the numbers on the board read once the clock hit zero.
Sure, the Lancers dropped a 35-7 contest, losing for the ninth straight time against the Blue Dragons, but this time felt different. The two teams were caught in a gritty battle up until the final minutes of the first half, when Middletown punched in two scores in 60 seconds to turn a 7-0 dogfight into a deceiving 21-0 rout.
â€śOur kids did a really good job,â€ť Eastern head coach Anthony Julius said. â€śWe knew Middletown was going to be a big challenge, but for a lot of the game I thought we met that challenge.â€ť
The Lancers battled through a tough 22 minutes to open the game, but the Blue Dragons began to wear down Eastern and pull away by halftime. The Lancers appeared to be on a productive drive after drawing Middletown offsides on fourth down, but on the very next play, Bryce Curtinâ€™s pass was deflected and hauled in at the line of scrimmage by a diving Shaun Gaskins for an interception. The pick proved costly two plays later, when Middletown quarterback Christopher Danas found Anthony Pappa down the sideline for a 28-yard score, putting the Blue Dragons ahead 7-0 with 5:34 left in the first half.
Pappa almost slipped out of bounds, but tip-toed the final five yards before tapping the pylon for the touchdown.
Middletownâ€™s aerial assault continued in the closing minutes of the second quarter, when Danas connected with Amil Phillip on a quick crossing route for a 61-yard touchdown, giving the Blue Dragons a 14-0 lead with 1:36 left in the half.
â€śWhen youâ€™re playing a team with that kind of talent, big plays hurt,â€ť Julius said. â€śWe tried to limit those big plays, and unfortunately they had too many of them tonight.â€ť
Looking to reach the halftime break without further damage, the Lancers lined up in punt formation with 30 seconds left, but instead watched their deficit grow once again. Kristian Glemaud broke through Easternâ€™s line and soared in to block the punt, quickly picking up the loose ball himself and scampering the final 10 yards into the end zone to put Middletown in control at the half.
After burning Eastern through the air in the first half, the Blue Dragons turned to their ground game to start the second. Gaskins punched in a touchdown from 36 yards out following an Eastern turnover on downs to make it 28-0 Middletown midway through the third quarter. It was Gaskinsâ€™ fourth carry of the half, and he had tallied 65 yards in the process.
The Lancers kept fighting, and finally broke through late in the third. A 30-yard run by Ryan Fradette set up first and goal for Eastern, and a roughing the passer call on fourth down kept the drive alive and put sophomore Alex Marshall in position to run it in from one yard out, pulling the Lancers to within 28-7 with less than two minutes to go in the quarter.
â€śThat one felt really good,â€ť Marshall said of scoring his first-ever varsity touchdown. â€śIt felt good to get one on the board for us.â€ť
Middletown reasserted its dominance two plays later, using a 55-yard run by William Nta to go right back ahead by four touchdowns for another big play, similar to the ones that doomed Eastern from the end of the first half through the final whistle. Still, the Lancers focused on the plays outside of the home runs by the Blue Dragons. Beyond those crippling scores was a hard-fought game that gives the team hope for Week 2.
â€śJust because we lost 35-7 to a good team doesnâ€™t mean we shouldnâ€™t have beat them,â€ť Curtin said after logging 73 yards through the air on 21 attempts. â€śWe hold ourselves to a better standard than that. So weâ€™re going to surprise some by working as hard as we can this week. I know the guys are eager to get a win.â€ť
Middletown 35, Bristol Eastern 7
Bristol Eastern (0-1) 0 0 7 0 â€“ 7
Middletown (1-0) 0 21 14 0 â€“ 35
M â€“ Anthony Pappa 28 pass from Christopher Danas (Matthew Aresco kick), 5:34
M â€“ Amil Phillip 61 pass from Danas (Aresco kick), 1:36
M â€“ Kristian Glemaud blocked punt return (Aresco kick), 0:35
M â€“ Shaun Gaskins 36 run (Aresco kick), 5:59
BE â€“ Alex Marshall 1 run (Jack Bachand kick), 1:44
M â€“ William Nta 55 run (Aresco kick), 1:17
Rushing-Middletown: Gaskins 6-81-TD, Nta 4-58-TD. Bristol Eastern: Marshall 10-40-TD, Treyvon Daniel 5-15.
Passing-Middletown: Danas 12-22-152-2TD. Bristol Eastern: Curtin 9-21-73-INT
Receiving-Middletown: Kyle Despres 6-68, Pappa 1-28-TD, Phillip 1-61-TD. Bristol Eastern: Elijah Gagliardo 2-20, Logan Schenk 1-15.