BRISTOL - Victor Rosa and the Bristol Central Rams rolled to their sixth straight Battle for the Bell victory and into the Class L playoffs with a solid 38-8 win over Bristol Eastern on Thanksgiving morning at Muzzy Field.
The Rams spotted the Lancers an early touchdown after a long opening drive, but turned up the defensive pressure the rest of the way and scored two quick touchdowns to start the second half to put the game away.
The Rams will now move on to the Class L playoffs for the first time since 1987, and will take on longtime CCC South foe Maloney at Falcon Field on Tuesday in the opening round.
Central fell to sixth in the overall class rankings after Naugatuck upset Ansonia and a couple of other teams picked up key bonus points on Thursday morning to move past the Rams.
Thursday’s game appeared headed for a back-and-forth exchange of scores behind high powered offenses with both teams put together long drives on their first possession. The Rams got a defensive stop when Ashton Zabka intercepted an Alex Marshall pass early in the second quarter and quickly turned it into a score to take a 16-8 lead.
From there the Lancers were never able to get the offense in gear after that.
Eastern’s opening drive featured the strong running of Marshall, who carried on all but one play of the 10-play march and scored the touchdown with 5:50 left in the opening frame. Marshall’s 2-point conversion run gave the Lancers an 8-0 lead.
“We wanted to control the clock and [have] long drives and make them earn their possessions, which we did in the first half,” Eastern head coach Anthony Julius said. “The kids executed well in the first half and I’m really proud of the effort they put forth.”
The only play of the drive that was not a Marshall run was a critical 7-yard pass completion from Marshall to Conor McCormick to keep the drive alive on a fourth down play at the Central 33-yard-line.
The Rams countered with a long drive of their own, mostly behind the running of Rosa who had 282 yards rushing and figured in all five of the Central scoring plays in the game. Rosa carried 12 times on the drive including a big 29-yard gain that put the ball at the Lancers three. Rosa scored from a yard out and added the 2-point conversion to tie the game just one minute into the second quarter.
The Central defense began to figure things out on the next drive and made it more difficult for Marshall, but a 21-yard run by Nate Shorette on a reverse kept the drive alive and Eastern was threatening deep in Central territory when Zabka wrestled the ball away from the Lancer receiver for an interception at the Rams’ 28.
Six plays later, Rosa found the end zone again on an 11-yard run and added the conversion for a 16-8 lead. The Rams were threatening again late in the half before McCormick came up with a fumble recovery to send his team into the locker room down by just one score at the half.
“It took that first drive for our guys to figure things out and start playing defense,” said Central coach Jeff Papazian. “It was important that we were able to match them after that score and come back and start playing our game.”
“I thought we bottled them up pretty good after that first drive,” Papazian added. “But even at halftime we were not all that comfortable. We knew if we kept playing with composure things would break our away and eventually we were able to break it open.”
The Rams put the game away with three third quarter scores and a stifling defense that limited the Lancers to just one possession. Central struck quickly after taking the opening half kickoff when Rosa hit a wide-open Damion Glasper for a 42-yard touchdown pass and a 24-8 lead.
Marshall picked up a quick first down for the Lancers, but their next strive stalled at the Rams’ 27 and it took Rosa just one play to put the game out of reach. His 73-yard run made it 30-8. The Rams recovered a muffed kick on the ensuing kickoff when freshman Tim Sample covered the ball at the Eastern 45.
“Once in a while you get a lucky bounce,” said Papazian. “Tim was in the right spot to pick it up and we just took control from there.”
Facing fourth and 17 after driving his team into the red zone, a scrambling Rosa found Jarrett Boxley open in the endzone for a 25-yard touchdown pass to round out the scoring on the final play of the third period. It was the first catch of the season for the senior who has been plagued by injuries all year.
“It’s crazy,” said Boxley. “I didn’t have any all year because I was hurt. It is really special to be able to score in the Thanksgiving game.”
“I’m so happy for Box,” said Papazian. “He’s battled injuries all year – some tough luck stuff. He just got the clearance to come back a couple of days ago and then he comes in there and has that great catch. He’s such a great kid and a hard worker. It’s really cool that we were able to do that.”
Rosa was the Thomas R. Monahan Offensive Player of the Game for the Rams for the second consecutive game. He had 28 carries for 282 yards and three rushing touchdowns. He has now rushed for 2,598 yards and 39 touchdowns for the season. He completed four of five passes for an additional 79 yards and two touchdowns. His combined passing and rushing yardage is now 3,877 yards and he has accounted for 48 touchdowns in ten games.
Marshall earned the Offensive Player of the Game award for the Lancers for the second time. He rushed for 88 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries and completed four of nine passes for 43 yards at quarterback.
“I’ve been here a long time and he’s right up there with some of the best running backs we’ve had,” Julius said. “He’s a tough kid, he runs hard, he falls forward and this year he added some speed to his [game] where he was able to make guys miss and break some long runs.”
Austin Shorette was named the Defensive Player of the Game for Eastern. The junior, along with Kyle Babin, was in on the vast majority of the Eastern tackles and had a couple of big stops early when the outcome was still in the balance.
Dan Lauretti earned the Defensive Player of the Game award for the Rams. The anchor of the defensive line, along with Malachi Jones, was key as the Rams made adjustments that slowed the potent Eastern ground game.
Eastern finished its season at 4-6. Thursday’s game was the final one for Leon Chatelle, Luke Dauphinee, Joseph Davis, Cameron Goodman, Alex Marshall, Conor McCormick, Nashon Pryce, Malik Sherill, Nathan Shorette and Alex Vita.
The Rams are now 9-1 and have tied the all-time school record win streak of nine on a row. Central now leads the Battle of the Bell series 37-23-2. Central’s storybook season will continue on Tuesday night in Meriden.
Bristol Central 38, Bristol Eastern 8
at Muzzy Field
Bristol Eastern 8 0 0 0 - 8
Bristol Central 0 16 22 0 - 38
BE – Alex Marshall, 2 run (Marshall run), 5:50
BC – Victor Rosa, 1 run (Rosa run), 10:30
BC – Rosa, 11 run (Rosa run), 3:26
BC – Damion Glasper, 42 pass from Rosa (Rosa run), 10:52
BC – Rosa, 73 run (run failed) 5:04
BC – Jarrett Boxley, 25 pass from Rosa (Justin Despins run), 0:08
Rushing: Bristol Eastern – Alex Marshall 32-88, Nathan Shorette, 2-14, Conor McCormick, 1-8. Bristol Central – Victor Rosa 28-282, Damion Glasper 2-4, Tre Blair 1-3, Justin Despins 2-12, Amarri Gaskin 3-22. Nik Salinas 1-3, Zyren Collins 1 – (-3).
Passing – Bristol Eastern - Marshall 4-9-2 int for 43 yds. Nate Shorette 0-1-0. Bristol Central – Rosa 4-5-0 for 79 yds.
Receiving – Bristol Eastern – McCormick 3-34, N. Shorette 1-9. Bristol Central – Glasper 3-54. Jarrett Boxley 1-25.