BRISTOL - It took a couple of big breaks and a big defensive stand, but the Bristol Central Rams pulled off a 20-17 win over Newington Friday night, snapping a two game losing streak and moving back to the .500 mark for the season.
The Rams fell in a hole on the very first play of the game when Carlum Caldwell ran the opening kickoff back 92 yards to put the Indians on top just twelve seconds into the game.
Newington held onto that lead into the fourth quarter when the Rams finally got the break they needed on a short punt and long return by Justus Fitzpatrick to set them up deep in Newington territory. It took four running plays to cover the 31 yards as Dathan Hickey put the Rams on top for the first time in the game on a two yard run with 9:45 remaining.
Central got its biggest break just two plays later when the defense forced a fumble and Darrell Payton pounced on it at the Newington 25. A 23-yard run by Hickey and a Damar Hamilton kick gave the Rams a 20-10 lead with just under eight minutes to play.
But things got dicey from there. The Central offense did not get back on the field until the final seconds as the Indians first cut the gap to 20-17 then recovered an onside kick and marched to the Central five before the defense kicked in.
“I think the best thing we can take away from this game,” said Central coach Jeff Papazian, “is that when things didn’t go our way, especially late in the game, we stuck together and responded the right way. I think that last series when they had third and two on our five, it would have been easy to pack it in and stop playing, but we didn’t do that. We kept it together, kept battling and we pulled out a tough win together.”
Trailing 20-10 midway through the final period, Newington made a quarterback switch that paid big dividends. Roberto Sanchez had spent most of the game as a running back behind sophomore Keenan Esau. But when the Indians fell into a deficit, Sanchez went back to his quarterback spot and rallied the Indians to a quick score, completing four of five passes to drive his team tothe touchdown, cutting the gap to 20-17 with five minutes left.
Newington then tried an onside kick and the Central team inexplicably watched the ball bounce around while the Indians pounced on it to get back in business at the Rams 41. A couple of big running plays by Aveontae Frazier, who had been very quiet for most of the night, helped drive the Indians to a first down at the Central 13 with 3:30 remaining
At that point penalties and miscues began to drive the action. Newington was penalized back to the 26, but the Rams countered with a face mask penalty and then a pass interference call that put the Indians at the five yard line.
Then the Central defense took over, first forcing an incomplete pass and a holding penalty to knock the Indians back to the 15. A big sack on third down by Devon Dawson put Newington into a fourth and 26 situation and Frankie Jenkins and Dawson came up with a stop to turn the ball back to the Rams to run out the final minute and preserve the win.
“I think the defense was very good all night,” said Papazian. “Ryan (Rodriguez), Frankie (Jenkins) and Isaac (Gonzalez) were outstanding on the corners and forced them to do some things they didn’t really want to do. And I think Jakob Salinas had his best game all year. It was a big time effort by that kid tonight.”
Salinas, a freshman linebacker, was Central’s leading tackler and was responsible for a half dozen tackles for loss. The Rams held Newington just 15 yards rushing in the contest. The defense came up with 14 tackles behind the line of scrimmage including seven quarterback sacks.
The Indians managed 134 yards in the air on 13 of 18 passing, but nearly half of those yards came on one 61 yard pass completion in the third quarter. The defense followed that completion with three straight sacks and forced an unsuccessful field goal attempt.
“I thought our secondary did a very good job overall,” said Papazian. “We had a bend but don’t break philosophy and except for that one big completion where we had a breakdown, they were pretty solid tonight.
Hickey finished the night with 130 rushing yards on 19 carries and three touchdowns. He completed only two of nine passes for 32 yards and was intercepted once.
The Rams improve to 3-3 on the season and face another tough battle next week at home against Capital Prep. Newington dropped its fourth in a row to fall to 2-4.