HARTFORD - Dathan Hickey adapted well to his new role as quarterback for the Bristol Central football team on Saturday afternoon.
Taking over from the injured Isaiah Miller, Hickey rushed for 178 yards and three touchdowns and passed for 103 more yards to lead the Rams to a 26-6 season-opening win over Hartford Public.
Darrell Payton had a solid debut in the backfield for the Rams as well, as he ran for a touchdown and helped his team put up 351 yards in total offense.
“It was a good opening win,” Central coach Jeff Papazian said. “The kids played really hard. Dathan and Darrell ran really hard right from the start and the guys up front played a pretty physical game. Hartford had some big boys in there that were tough to move, but our line was able to open up enough creases to get the job done.”
The Central defense gave up a touchdown when the Owls marched 65 yards on 11 plays with the opening possession, but stiffened and held them scoreless the rest of the way.
Big interceptions by Justus Fitzpatrick and Jose Navedo were key to the Rams’ defense, as was solid play on the line to control running back Lavarey Banton, who carried the ball on all but one of his team’s running plays.
“The defense after the first series bottled them up pretty good,” Papazian said. “We knew (Banton) was a good player and he did some good things out there, but in the end we controlled him enough for us to get off the field with a win.
“We shut them out after the opening drive. That’s a nice way for our defense to start the season.”
Banton carried the ball eight times on the Owls’ opening drive, taking it in from four yards out with just over seven minutes left in the opening period.
But the Rams countered quickly behind Hickey, who had five runs of 10 yards or more, as he led the team on an 12-play, 80-yard drive to tie the score. Hickey scored from the 3 with 30 seconds left in the quarter.
The Central defense forced a three and out after the score and Hickey quickly put his team in the lead for good. He hit Fitzpatrick for a 30-yard pass completion on a third-and-18 play early in the drive, then broke free for a 49-yard touchdown with eight minutes to play in the half.
Hickey added the extra point and the Rams went into the locker room with a 14-6 lead.
They made it 20-6 after taking the second half kickoff, aided by a couple of Hartford penalties. Payton scored from nine yards out just two minutes into the second half.
Hartford followed that with its only sustained drive of the half, but Navedo ended the threat when he stepped in front of a pass at the goal line and returned it to the 25, setting up a time consuming 12-play drive that put the Rams in command.
Hickey completed long passes to Nigel West, Nate Rosa and Fitzpatrick to keep the drive going and scored on a one-yard run with eight minutes to go.
Navedo came up with a couple of big defensive stops to halt the Owls’ final bid to score and the Rams walked off with their first opening day win in four years.
The only fly in the ointment for the Rams was the number of penalties they rang up in the contest. Central was whistled 13 times for 115 yards. Hartford Public also had 13 flags for 122 yards.
“We’ve got a whole bunch of work to do this week to clean up over 100 yards of penalties,” Papazian said. “Some of it was first week stuff, but a lot of it came during plays so there’s definitely stuff we need to work on this week, especially with a big challenge coming on Friday night.”
Defensively, Papazian was generally pleased with the overall play.
“I thought Jose Navedo had a really good game on the corner, both assignment-wise and technique-wise,” Papazian said. “And Devon [Dawson] gave us a nice spark inside. Mike Guzman was solid in the middle and Alex Lape and Isaac Gonzalez had a good effort on the line.”
Papazian was also happy with the effort of the receivers who helped keep the Rams’ offense alive in key situations.
Central converted on five of six third down plays as well as a fourth down attempt.
“I thought we threw the ball well,” Papazian said. “Nate Rosa had a big catch and Justus [Fitzpatrick] and Nigel [West] made some nice plays. Having those guys making plays helped us to open up the offense a little more.”
Fitzpatrick caught three passes for 46 yards to lead the Rams. Rosa had a big 37-yard reception on a key third down play and West caught two for 20 yards.
Banton carried 26 times for 124 yards to lead Hartford, although a good chunk of those yards came late in the fourth quarter after the outcome of the game was sealed. After the first drive, the Central defense was able to keep him under control with the game on the line.
The Rams will play their home opener next week against a Windsor team that is coming off a shutout of a solid Maloney squad this weekend. The Warriors are a top-five team in the state and will be a difficult test for the Rams as they inaugurate their new field.