MANCHESTER - It took the Bristol Central defense the entire first quarter to figure out how to stop the double-wing offense of the East Catholic Eagles Saturday afternoon. But once the unit worked out the defensive kinks, and got the offense into gear, the Rams football team had little trouble rolling to a 34-13 win.
Freshman Victor Rosa scored his first two varsity touchdowns and Central put up 400 yard of total offense to improve to 4-5 on the season and keep its momentum alive as it moves into the season finale on Thanksgiving.
But it was not an easy win for the Rams, who had to overcome not only the unusual attack of the Eagles (3-6), but their own emotions as they dealt with the disappointment of the two forfeit losses they had to give up on Friday that knocked them out of a chance for a division title and a potential playoff berth.
It was clear Central was dealing with a lot more than football as they came out flat and struggled through an opening period in which East Catholic ran 19 plays and controlled the ball for the entire quarter as it marched 69 yards to score the game's first touchdown, consuming 11 minutes and 36 seconds on the drive.
Once the Rams’ offense finally got its hands on the ball, it didn't take long to find some openings in the Eagles’ defense. Victor Rosa got the offense going with a big gain on a 3rd-down play and Justus Fitzpatrick and Jose Navedo both had big runs to get Central to the one before Fitzpatrick took it in for the score. The extra point attempt fell short, but the tide of the game was turned and the Rams picked up the intensity the rest of the way.
"I thought the offense really responded well," Central head coach Jeff Papazian said. "They really got us going out there."
"It took us a drive to settle in on defense," he added. "But once we figured it out, we really adjusted well."
Despite the rough start, the Rams finished the game with some pretty impressive statistics. After giving up 69 yards on the first drive, the Central defense allowed just 48 yards the rest of the way. They gave up a late touchdown on a short field drive but had an interception and four sacks as they thwarted the Eagles' attack.
Victor Rosa led the offense for the Rams. The freshman carried eight times for 117 yards and two touchdowns, while catching two passes for an additional 44 yards. His 27-yard run for a score in the third quarter was the first touchdown of his high school career.
"Victor's a special talent," Papazian said. "He's been there when we needed him all year. We're not afraid to go to him in big spots. That early run he had on third-and-long really picked up the offense and got us going. He ran hard and he ran physical and he really sparked something in us. He may be a freshman on the roster, but we're nine games in now. We don't consider him a freshman anymore."
Darrell Payton, meanwhile, was the workhorse in the Central attack with 13 carries for 84 yards. With the defense keying on him for most of the game, Fitzpatrick managed 43 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. He completed 3-of-6 passes for 71 yards.
After the early second-quarter touchdown, the Rams' defense stepped it up and shut down the Eagles on a quick three and out to set up the offense for the go ahead score. Central marched 65 yards, all on the ground, on eight plays, to take the lead for good on a 21 yard run by Fitzpatrick with four and a half minutes left in the half.
The Rams led by only 12-7 at halftime, but turned the game around with two quick scores to open the third quarter, going 63 yards in six plays after the second-half kickoff to score on an 8-yard sweep by Navedo less than three minutes into the half. A 38-yard run by Payton on the second play of the drive set the tone for Central in the second half.
East Catholic ran only one play before Jakub Salinas intercepted a pass to set the Rams up for another score. Victor Rosa had a 21-yard run on the drive and took it the final 26 yards, carrying a couple of defenders into the end zone. Fitzpatrick ran for two and Central was in control with a 26-7 lead.
The Eagles scored early in the final period on a 1-yard run by Matt Byam to cut it to 26-13, but Victor Rosa put the game out of reach with a 27-yard run, leaping over a pile of defenders to break free for the game's final score.
An inspired Rams’ defense drove East Catholic backwards on its last two possessions and with the backups in the lineup, sophomore Shawn Rodriguez gave the Central fans a thrill with a 67-yard run down the sideline before he was pulled down at the East Catholic 20 late in the game.
"Once again I'm really proud of the kids and the way they have responded to adversity," Papazian said. "They've been doing it all year when we got behind or had something go wrong on the field. We've had to deal with some things the last few days. But we've never folded from day one and we responded today like we have all year."
BRISTOL CENTRAL 34, EAST CATHOLIC 13
at Cheney Tech, Manchester
Bristol Central (4-5) 0 6 14 8 - 34
East Catholic (3-6) 7 0 0 6 - 13
EC-Matt Byam, 1 run (Byam kick), 0:24
BC-Justus Fitzpatrick, 1 run (run failed), 9:52
BC-Fitzpatrick, 21 run (run failed), 4:32
BC-Jose Navedo, 8 run (Fitzpatrick run), 9:19
BC-Victor Rosa, 26 run (pass failed), 7:00
EC-Byam, 1 run (kick failed), 9:12
BC-V. Rosa, 27 run (Fitzpatrick run), 7:43
Rushing-Bristol Central: Justus Fitzpatrick 11-43, Darrell Payton 13-84, Victor Rosa 8 - 117, Jose Navedo 2-26, Shawn Rodriguez 2-62, Orlando Baldwin 2-(-2), Tre Jones 1-(-6). East Catholic: Matt Byam 13-17, Noah Vail 11-40, David Lundy 8-36, Steve Chen 5-26, Rocco DeSimone 4-26, Chris Connelly 1-1, Harrison Eklund 4 -(-19).
Passing-Bristol Central: Fitzpatrick 3-6-0 for 71 yds. East Catholic: Eklund 0-7-1.
Receiving-Bristol Central: Nate Rosa 1-27, Victor Rosa 2-44.