BRISTOL - For the third year in a row, the Bristol Central Rams walked away from Muzzy Field with a win on Thanksgiving morning. For coach Jeff Papazian and 15 graduating seniors it was the culmination of a four-year project to rebuild the football program.
The current seniors started with Papazian when he took over as head coach of a struggling program four years ago. They have won 20 games over the last three years and have kept the Bell trophy on Wolcott Street since their sophomore year when many of them first stepped into starting roles.
“All of us are just so happy to send this senior class out the way we felt that they deserved,” Papazian said. “They have been such a big part of whatever success we have had both on and off the field over the past four years. They didn’t have to buy into what I was selling when they got here as freshmen four years ago, but they did.”
“We’ve seen the results of their hard work on the field,” he added, “but we’ve also seen it in the building and in the classroom. They are a great group of kids. It’s going to be weird seeing someone else wearing those numbers next year. I’m just so happy we were able to send them out the way they deserve.”
Thursday’s win was a battle from the start and the Rams were finally able to pull it out thanks to some big plays late in the game.
“When we needed the big play we got it,” Papazian said. “Being able to keep our composure for the most part worked to our advantage.”
The Lancers racked up over 300 yards of offense against the Central defense, yet the coach was generally happy with the defensive effort.
“Eastern’s plan was to take their yards in little chunks,” he said. “And for the most part it worked. They were happy to get three or four yards a play and they were tough to deal with. (Steven) Hopkins ran really hard and was tough for our linemen to take down, and (Justin) Marshall, when he has the time to throw, is a really good quarterback. But when we needed the big plays at the end we got them.”
Jose Navedo had a big first quarter interception to stop one Eastern drive and the Rams stepped it up to stop the Lancers on fourth down twice in the final period.
But the big story in the game was the offense and Yale-bound quarterback Dathan Hickey. Hickey had 333 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 28 carries. He finished his season with 30 touchdowns, 15 of them in the last three games. He is now third on Central’s all time season touchdown list.
He rushed for 1,402 yards on the season, putting him in ninth place all time for the Rams. His 333 yards is the seventh best single game rushing record in school history and the second most yards ever recorded by a single player on Thanksgiving, behind the 353 of Tim Washington in 2000.
He had two touchdown runs of 75 yards and one of 52 yards in Thursday’s win.
“Big time players make big plays in big games,” Papazian said. “He did it against a defense that was specifically designed to shut him down and he did it with an ankle that bothered him from the middle of the first quarter. He battled all day.”
Hickey’s final touchdown on a 75-yard run with 1:29 left in the game sealed the win for the Rams.
“At that point everyone in the park knew who the ball was going to,” Papazian said.
While Hickey had a huge game statistically, Papazian was quick to credit the players in front of him for his success.
“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to those guys up front who opened the holes for him,” Papazian said. “When the defense is keying on one guy all day it can make it tough for the other 10 guys on the field. But the O-Line did a real nice job and the guys on the outside gave him some great blocks. Darrell Payton did a great job blocking for him and you have to give a lot of credit to the guys on the outside. Nigel West, Nathan Rosa and Ryan Rodriguez had some huge blocks.”
The Rams also got a big effort from senior captain Alex Lape, who has been sidelined since the third game of the season but was cleared to play just two days before Thursday and stepped back into his role as a defensive end and punter for the season finale.
The Rams finished the season 7-3. They ended up in 12th place in the CIAC Class L playoff ratings, four spots short of a qualifying berth.
Thursday’s game was the final game for seniors Josh Boxley, Zack Bunker, Josh Carrasquillo, Devon Dawson, John Duncan, Adam Ewart, Damar Hamilton, Nigel West, captains Mike Guzman, Dathan Hickey, Alex Lape, Isaiah Miller, and Gabe Updegraff and managers Brandon Bianca and Kyle Santos.