HEBRON - For the first time since 2013, the Bristol Eastern football team holds a 2-0 record to start the season, but came close to falling on the wrong side of Friday afternoon’s road matchup with RHAM.
The Lancers bested the Raptors 13-7, which matched their win total from the 2019 season, but nearly allowed RHAM to score the game-winning touchdown as time expired in the fourth quarter. A fumble by Eastern late in the final period gave RHAM the ball back 46 yards away from the end zone. By the time the clock reached two minutes left in the contest, the Raptors had first down and 10 on the 18-yard-line.
RHAM continued to journey towards the goal line and almost made it on third and goal, when a pass from quarterback Ryan McLaughlin to Jimmy Hulland put the Raptors on the one-yard line. The pass hit the ground and should have been ruled incomplete, but the referee called the play a completion, giving RHAM fourth and goal from one yard away with four seconds to go and a running clock.
The clock operator at RHAM stopped the clock, however, which gave the Raptors time to line up and call a running play for Max Nylen that the referees disagreed on whether or not he scored. Upon evaluating that the clock should never have stopped, the referees negated the final play because RHAM had no timeouts and no other methods of stopping the clock on fourth down, leaving the victory in the hands of the Lancers.
“The referee ruled a complete pass in bounds with four seconds left, it’s impossible to clock the ball, it’s impossible,” Eastern head coach Anthony Julius said. “I am fortunate that the referees got together and made the right decision. I know RHAM doesn’t feel that way and if I was on their side, I’d feel the same exact way. Their kids played incredibly hard, that’s a really good football team. We were fortunate to get out of her with a win today.”
Eastern’s red-zone defense kept the team competitive throughout the game, keeping RHAM off the scoreboard until the final seven minutes of the game. The Lancers force the Raptors into a missed field goal attempt their first time inside the 20-yard-line and then stuffing them on a fourth down with one yard to go the next time.
“The defense really rose to the occasion,” Julius said. “We didn't get the ground game going the way we wanted to. We had some guys get banged up throughout the game, we had to have some guys step up into some different spots and I’m incredibly proud of the effort our defensive guys gave. We made a lot of big plays when we had to, we really kind of bent and didn’t break most of the game.”
Eastern’s second stop in the red zone turned into the drive that yielded its first score of the game. Following a scoreless first quarter, the Lancers forced two consecutive stops and took over on downs from their own 12-yard-line. They marched up the field in 10 plays and senior running back Alex Marshall capped off the drive with a three-yard run into the end zone.
The drive was close to stalling out much earlier as the Eastern faced third down with nine yard to go, but freshman quarterback Kamden Laprise linked up with senior tight end Conor McCormick on a corner route on the right side of the field for a 33-yard gain to keep the drive alive, a play call that proved to be fruitful for Eastern as the game went on. Marshall broke a 29-yard run two plays later and the Lancers were in the red zone and scored five plays later.
“I felt like we were a little stagnant to start,” Julius said. “We had a couple of miscues on the offensive side, some execution errors. Once we had that big pass play to Conor it kind of woke us up a little bit in the second quarter. It jump-started the offense for us.”
Eastern’s defense inside the 20-yard-line remained formidable on RHAM’s ensuing drive, which went for 14 plays before getting stonewalled five yards away from the end zone as the first half ended. The Raptors converted a fourth down and 16 yards to go earlier in the drive, but failed to have the same offensive success once the goal line came within reach.
The Lancers started the second half with the ball and added another touchdown to their score six plays later. Laprise and McCormick connected on the same corner route twice on the drive, gaining 29 yards on third down and 10 yards to go the first time and then scoring from 18 yards out the second time. Eastern gained an extra 15 yards after the first pass because of a roughing the passer penalty against RHAM, which put them 29 yards away from the end zone. McCormick finished with three catches for 80 yards and a touchdown. The Lancers had to finish the game without him after he suffered an ankle injury that kept him off the field.
“Conor McCormick is a great player for us,” Julius said. “Unfortunately he got nicked up there in the second half and we weren’t able to use him and take advantage of some of the opportunities we thought we had. He’s a tough kid and hopefully it’s a minor thing, we’re going to find out more this week. Our freshman quarterback stepped up, made some really big throws and hit [McCormick] on some really nice plays so I couldn’t be happier with their effort.”
The scoring slowed after that as the Raptors pass-heavy offense struggled to move the ball consistently. Senior safety Nate Shorette intercepted McLaughlin in the third quarter, which gave the ball back to Eastern.
“I was just standing there and I saw the quarterback’s top hand, and then the ball was in my hands when I went up,” Shorette said. “I was like ‘let’s go.’”
RHAM avoided the shutout with a score in the middle of the fourth quarter on a long drive that highlighted the connection between McLaughlin and Hulland. The two first connected on a 40-yard play on third down to continue their drive with a diving catch from Hulland. McLaughlin found Hulland in the end zone three plays later, but the touchdown was called back because of an illegal substitution penalty, the second time RHAM had a touchdown taken away in this game. The duo scored for real from 27 yards away shortly after the penalty, bringing the Raptors within six points of Eastern.
With almost seven minutes left in the game, the Lancers gave RHAM opportunities to add more points and avoided some detrimental plays from the Raptors. Following an Eastern three and out, the Raptors next drive stalled when they failed to convert a fourth down and 20 by one yard in which every RHAM coach and player disagreed with the referee’s spotting of the ball.
The Lancers lost a fumble and gave the ball right back to the Raptors two plays later with four minutes on the clock and 46 yards between them and the end zone. They ended up coming one yard short as they had no means of stopping the clock as time expired in the fourth quarter.
Marshall finished with 100 yards on 27 carries as the Lancers faced a more challenging battle at the line of scrimmage than the one it faced against E.O. Smith the week before that allowed Marshall to run for more than 240 yards and four touchdowns.
Eastern will be at home for its next game when it faces Wilbur Cross at 7 p.m. on Sept. 24.
“It feels pretty good [to win], not the greatest way to get it, but we definitely got there,” Marshall said. “We’re going to be working hard to fix a lot of the things we messed up this week. The snapping was a problem, we basically tried to lose the game when we fumbled at the [end]. We have a lot of things to work on going into next week against Wilbur Cross.”
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or email@example.com.
BRISTOL EASTERN 13, RHAM 7
Bristol Eastern (2-0) 0 7 6 0
E.O. Smith (0-1) 0 0 0 7
BE - Alex Marshall 3-yard run (Gavin Damboise kick), 5:27
BE - Conor McCormick 18-yard pass from Kamden Laprise (Gavin Damboise kick is blocked), 8:21
RHAM - Jimmy Hulland 27-yard pass from Ryan McLaughlin (PAT is good), 6:46
Passing - Bristol Eastern: Kamden Laprise 6-6-90-TD.
Rushing - Bristol Eastern: Alex Marshall 27-100-TD, Brady Brown 2-2, Kamden Laprise 1-(-7)-FUM
Receiving - Bristol Eastern: Rayshon Andrews 2-5, Jeremy Kolloverja 1-5, Conor McCormick 3-80-TD