The Bristol Central Rams will open the 2017 football season on the road this afternoon in a 1 p.m. start at Hartford Public High School. Despite having a new quarterback, a new running back and a largely untested corps of receivers, the Rams hope to unveil a high-powered offense they hope will be able to put plenty of points on the board.
Central will be relying heavily on a very experienced offensive line that includes five players with varsity experience, including three who will be starting for the third year in a row. Coach Jeff Papazian has said the experience and leadership of his offensive line will be the key for the Rams in 2017.
Senior Dathan Hickey takes over at quarterback, at least for the first few weeks, replacing the injured Isaiah Miller. He will be joined in the backfield by junior Darrell Payton. The Rams will need to replace a 1,000 yard rusher in the graduated Luis Medina, but Papazian is confident his new backfield duo will be up to the task.
“We’ve got a couple of guys with some pretty good quickness back there and if the guys up front can do their job, we expect them to have plenty of room to run,” Papazian said.
Defensively, the Rams will have their hands full with a Hartford Public squad that has some pretty good backfield talent.
“They have a pretty talented running back coming back (in Lavarey Blanton),” Papazian said, “and we will need to be aware of where he is at all times. We expect them to be a pretty big challenge for us in Week 1. “
Banton ran for nearly 1,500 yards last season and the Central front line will need to work to contain him.
“Coach (Harry) Bellucci has been there a long time, “Papazian added, “and we expect him to have his team well prepared and well coached.”
The Owls have great speed and that could be a concern for the Rams. Three of the Hartford receivers were a part of the 4x200 relay team that broke the state indoor record last winter and the Owls hope to capitalize on that speed this season. But the Rams can counter with some speedsters of their own in the defensive backfield with Hickey, Justus Fitzpatrick, Jose Navedo and Dom Va.
The Rams and Owls have not met on the gridiron since 2010 when Hartford pulled out a 20-16 victory. This will be the eighth meeting overall between the two CCC clubs who have spent most of their years in the league in opposite divisions. Central won the first three meetings in the early 80’s, but the Owls have won three of the last four.
The Owls were 3-7 a year ago playing a schedule that included games against powerful teams such as Windsor and Middletown. They have struggled a bit in recent years, but have some high expectations for this season, especially after their track successes last winter. After a 1-7 start Hartford won its last two games of last season and is hoping to carry that success over into the start of this season.
The Rams were 6-4 a year ago and shared the CCC Division II-West title with a 4-1 divisional record. The Rams are looking to improve on that mark despite facing a ramped up schedule. The first big test in that schedule comes this afternoon