By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – Since Jeff Papazian has taken over the reins of the Bristol Central football program, the team has been extremely successful against crosstown rival Bristol Eastern on Thanksgiving.
And although the Rams are the “road team” on Turkey Day this year, the program is truly at its home-away-fr.om-home on Thanksgiving at Muzzy Field.
It’s the 61st edition of the Battle of the Bell and Bristol Central is ready to bring that brass bell back to the school for the fifth straight year.
Here’s what to look for:
Bristol Central – Visiting squad
Head Coach: Jeff Papazian (Sixth Thanksgiving game as Central’s head coach. He’s 4-1 on Turkey Day as a coach).
Date and Time of the event: 10:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
Central 2019 Team Record: 4-5 overall
Last Year: Central defeated Eastern, 24-19, on Turkey Day last season.
The Series: The Rams have the advantage in the all-time series, 35-23-2 and are looking to make it five consecutive victories over the Lancers.
Series Fact: Since 1999, Bristol Central is 11-8-1 on Thanksgiving which included a seven game and current four game winning streak.
Players to watch: Jakob Salinas (jr., LB/OL); Victor Rosa (so., QB/DB); Orlando Baldwin (jr., RB/LB); Galen Hickey (sr., WR/DB); D’Ante Ross (jr., WR/DB); Eli Rodriguez (jr., WR/DB); Tre Jones (jr., WR/LB); Tony Lopez (jr., WR/DB); Justin Despins (so., WR/DB); Zach Vanasse (so., WR/DB); Shawn Rodriguez (jr., RB/LB); Dom Ford (jr., OL/DL); Casey Quirion (jr., OL/DL); Jessie Johnson (jr., OL/DL); Daniel Lauretti (so., OL/DL); Eric Facey (so., OL/DL); Peter Nizielski (jr., TE/DL); Jorge Dejesus (jr., TE/DL); Marcos Occasion (jr., WR/DB); Jarrett Boxley (so., WR/DB); Peter Nizielski (jr., TE/DL).
Why Bristol Central will win…Bristol Central’s running game is going to give Bristol Eastern all sorts of problems.
The Rams have extremely fast feet and if the Lancers can’t make that first tackle count, those yards after contact are going to pile up quickly.
And Central’s garrison of running options will keep the chains moving.
Victor Rosa, another one of those athletic quarterback types Papazian loves to employ, leads the running attack for the Rams.
Rosa is averaging 6.7 yards-per-carry which includes 146 carries (975 total yards) and 14 touchdowns.
He’s quick, he’s elusive and the sophomore — who has a little Timmy Washington and D.J. Hernandez in him — can find any seam in the opposing defenses and attacks.
And when the Rams had injuries problems with Rosa, Galen Hickey (48 rushes, 185 yards, three TDs) filled in nicely while Shawn Rodriguez (97-478-6) makes up part of that three-headed running onslaught.
True, Rosa isn’t your traditional passer (29-for-75, 442 yards, two touchdowns) but his throwing game has improved since earlier in the season and targets such as Tre Jones (14 catches, 246 yards), Rodriguez (6-65 ) and Hickey (7-94) help to diversify the offense.
That play action opens up the field on Eastern and will be a strength during Thanksgiving.
The offense is also augmented by the play of Dom Ford, D’Ante Ross, Peter Nizielski, Dan Lauretti, Eric Facey, Jessie Johnson, and Justin Despins.
That run game doesn’t open up all by itself and it’s certainly a team effort.
Defensively, several familiar faces from the offensive side of things play both ways.
The line is anchored by veteran Jakob Salinas and his play over the last three seasons has been simply outstanding.
The grouping of Tony Lopez, Zachery Vanessa, Eli Rodriguez, Orlando Baldwin, Casey Quirion, Jorge DeJesus, Jones, Facey, Hickey and Lauretti – among others, has been an excellent unit.
That grouping allows just 19.2 points-per-game and that gives the program a chance for victory in every game.
Despite being a game under .500, this is a squad that will be ready for the Thanksgiving Day challenge.
The X-Factor: Galen Hickey.
Will “Hickeymania’ run while on Thanksgiving?
Don’t bet against it as the jack-all-of-trades athlete will do a little of everything for the Rams in attempting to topple Eastern.
He runs with the ball, punts it for big yardage, nabs critical receptions, and can fill in at quarterback, too.
And it’s always these dangerous, versatile athletes that seems to give the Lancers the most heartburn.
Bristol Central can NOT…just get it done with the run game alone.
Eastern has shown ability to get to the ball carrier and if the Lancers can make their tackles in the biggest game of the season, Central is going to have a game on its hands.
The Rams must be wary of Edgar Santiago, Eastern’s leading tackler, while Treyvon Daniel in the backfield is capable of running down the opponents fastest assets.
Central could hold the edge athletically but emotions must be held in check as well.
Penalties always seem to loom big in this rivalry game.
No matter how fast the Rams are, those third-and-long situations could lead to more Hickey punts than Central wants to see.
Papazian’s Take on Thanksgiving: “We know [Eastern] will be ready for us. You don’t put much into the records or the common opponents or any of that junk on Thanksgiving. It’s a different game [and I’ve] been around long enough to know that. We’ll see.”
Lastly…Central wants to go .500 for the sixth straight campaign. That’s motivation enough to beat the Lancers.
But the Rams hold a number of strengths over a very game Eastern squad and if the program sticks to its plan, that winning streak will extend into 2020.
And the winner is…not the turkey.
After the contest, coach Papazian will head to Burger King for his ritual Thanksgiving Day feast, expecting to arrive at the restaurant with a smile for the fifth straight holiday and ready for the microwavable delights.