NEWINGTON - The common theme around the Newington football team in its past three games against division rival Bristol Central has been, “Oh so close.”
In each of the last three seasons, the Indians have dropped painful losses to the Rams, losing by six in 2016, three in 2017 and six again last year. Each game has been a battle, with last season’s coming down to a secured onside kick by Bristol Central to seal a win after Newington quarterback Nick Pestrichello led his offense to a quick touchdown drive to temporarily keep hope alive.
But a lesson from that loss remained and it was one head coach Jason Pace reviewed this week as the Indians (5-2) prepare for potential payback on Friday night.
“The coaches have explained what happened to us and what penalties were made, so we’ve been going over our craft so we don’t have those mistakes,” said senior Zach DeMarco, who has been around for plenty of the heartbreak against the Rams (4-3). “Last year we made silly mistakes that cost us the game. We can’t afford those in any situation, because it can change the game.”
This season figures to be another tough battle that will require few mistakes in order to come away with a win. Both squads enter the contest with a winning record, both have impressive wins against Windsor, with Newington winning an eight-point game in its season opener, and Bristol Central coming away with a convincing 34-6 win, and both are in the think of the Class L playoff race.
But for the Indians, the records and common opponents could have told a dramatically different story and they still would have been bracing for a battle that could potentially come down to the wire.
“It’s going to be a good game,” junior kicker AJ Ferreira said. “Both of our teams have been getting better all season and have had pretty good outcomes. But I think we can pull this game away. We’ve been putting in a lot of hard work. It should be a good battle, but I think we can come out with a victory.”
Newington won’t have to worry about All-State quarterback and cornerback Justus Fitzpatrick this time around, who graduated this past spring. Before graduating, he torched the Indians on the ground with 179 rushing yards and three touchdowns, while completing all six of his passing attempts. Despite Fitzpatrick’s absence, Newington’s defense will still have to key in on his replacement in Galen Hickey, who is also a threat with his legs, and showed it last week against RHAM by rushing for 100 yards in a blowout victory.
“We’ve been studying a lot and seeing their formations,” DeMarco said. “Their quarterback is very shifty, so we’ve been working in practice and containing him and not letting him scramble out.”
In a game that could potentially come down to one or two key plays, as it has in recent years, the Indians could be counting on Ferreira, who could help change the outlook of the game with a key conversion on special teams or a good punt to flip field position. Last year, a fumbled snap on a punt by the Rams led to a Newington touchdown, and poor field position by the Indians later led to a punt that only reached their own 33-yard line, leading to a Bristol Central score that turned a one-point game into seven in a span of three plays.
“I try to be as consistent as I can, but it definitely comes in clutch sometimes when things are close,” Ferreira said of the importance special teams could play on Friday. “It could come down to a field goal or an extra point. I just have to execute.”
The Indians would prefer Friday doesn’t come down to one play, but if it does, they’re confident in their ability to erase three years of disappointment and break the streak of close losses to the Rams. After all, there is much more to play for this season.
“It’s our division rival, but every game is a do-or-die,” DeMarco said. “We’re trying to get a spot in the playoffs, so we have to do whatever it takes to get a win.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org