By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – Six straight Thanksgiving Day games for the Bristol Eastern football team; six straight victories for the Lancers.
It’s a formula the Eastern football team saw for the first time ever in the history of Thanksgiving Day football
And against Bristol Central on Thursday, Nov. 22, the Lancers took it to the Rams – smothering the squad defensively – and picked up a season-ending 17-6 victory from Muzzy Field in Bristol.
With the win, Eastern ended its season with a 5-5 ledger while the Rams fell to 3-7.
Eastern allowed Central running back Tyler Burrow only one real solid run in the game and it was his first jaunt – a nearly 20-yard rush – as Central’s first touch of the ball-game provided its biggest yardage of the contest.
From there, it was doom, demise, and misery for the Rams as the squad added only 16 total yards from that point on in the game.
“We thought coming into (Thanksgiving) we had a pretty good game-plan and we’d match-up okay with them,” said Bristol Central coach Sal Cintorino. “As the game progressed right after the first quarter, I think from the second series, Eastern started coming with a lot of pressure and we struggled up front to pick that up. I thought the four-down linemen did a fairly good job…sometimes it was five down linemen.”
“Up front, (Eastern) did a really good job.”
When Eastern needed stops throughout the game, it was a total team effort by the Lancers.
Eastern generated numerous sacks on Central quarterback Andrew Laviero (6-for-14, 55 yards) as Harrison Sacharko (three sacks), Kenny Smith, Nick Crowley, and Sean Aiudi put pressure on the chucker and the Rams‘ defense via sacks.
“We were solid,” said Bristol Eastern coach Mike Archangelo about the defense. “We made a couple of adjustments. We were playing some zone to their three receiver sets and they were a couple times we got lucky where we put our kids in a bad position. We made some adjustments later on and shut down what they were trying to do which was good.”
“But time and time again, our defensive front was in their backfield all day and they played and they picked us up.”
Then, there was the Eastern offense that simply overwhelmed Central.
And a career day came from Lancers’ running back Nick Crowley.
Crowley, finally healthy enough to carry the ball off a broken thumb, made 37 blazing carries for the Lancers and while he didn’t score a single point, his career high of 200 yards was outstanding and simply moved the chains each and every team Eastern had its collective backs against the wall.
“All it took was one guy to miss a block,” said Cintorino of the Central defense. “They were getting there. They were getting a lot of pressure and we made some halftime adjustments but (Eastern) just kept on coming.”
Crowley finished the season with 737 rushing yards and rushed for 11 touchdowns.
Health has been a key ingredient for the Lancers that the squad hasn’t enjoyed since Week 1 in Eastern’s 31-13 victory over RHAM.
Against the Rams, Eastern saw the returns of jack-of-all-trades back Gabe Kurasz, linebacker Kyle Porter, and the surprise comeback of quarterback Tommy Curtin.
Each one of those players gave a little something in the victorious effort and Eastern getting healthy at the right time made all the difference in the game.
“It was nice to see Tommy able to comeback,” said Archangelo of his quarterback. “What people don’t understand is that our other quarterback (Alex Hunter) broke his hand two days before the game. Tommy went to the doctor, got his cast off and he’s fresh off of one day out of playing with that broken wrist. To come out, be poised like that and find (Sean Aiudi) wide open (for a touchdown reception) that was tremendous play.”
The only thing that spun Eastern in the game was a boatload of fumbles and numerous penalties that kept the Lancers off the scoreboard in a game that could have turned into a blowout.
But credit the Rams; defense as well because on any given day, holding Eastern to only 17 points in a game might have been just enough to get by the pesky Lancers.
“We made a bunch of mistakes offensively,” said Archangelo. “But our defense continued to pick us up in the game.”
Central tried to get something going offensively. But the only time the Rams got on the board was off a gift from Eastern – as Eastern blew a 4-and-1 opportunity on the Eastern 13 yard-line as Central’s Jarrett Michaels made his first of two fumble recoveries.
From there, Burrow made a tough two-yard jaunt into the end zone and with 10:38 left in the first-half, Central cut a seven-point deficit to one at 7-6.
However, even as Central got on the board, the Rams never tasted the lead and the offensive struggles continued for the squad throughout the game.
Central never got in the game from the start as it fumbled away Eastern’s initial kickoff that gave the Lancers control of the ball right off the bat.
The Lancers should have gotten on the board off that first drive as starting QB Alex Hunter sprinted 36 yards in for a touchdown but a holding penalty called it back.
Both teams traded punts during that first quarter but Eastern made its next possession count.
Eastern went 56 yards off nine plays as Hunter capped the drive off with a one yard slip into the end zone as the Lancers led 7-0 with 4:21 left in the first period.
The score carried over into the second frame when Central got on the scoreboard as well.
But the extra-point failed off the Burrow score as Eastern maintained its edge at 7-6.
Michaels made another fumble recovery for Central off a booted Eastern snap but the Rams were quickly forced to punt by the end of the drive.
The teams later traded interceptions which set up the final play of the half for Eastern.
The Lancers moved the ball all the way to Central’s seven-yard line but with two seconds left in the tilt, Eastern was forced to kick a field goal instead of trying one last crack at finding pay dirt in the end zone.
It was up to Jeremy Meccariello as he easily smashed the ball through the uprights as his third field goal of the season – this time a 25-yarder – that made it a 10-6 game at the half.
Eastern got the ball to start the third stanza and seven plays into the drive, Curtin appeared to be look
ing for Juan Gonzalez for a connection on the right side of the field.
But with Gonzalez tightly covered, Curtin’s real target was Aiudi a little bit further up as the junior made his first ever reception and rumbled into the end zone for another score as his 49-yard touchdown jaunt made it 17-6 with 7:49 left to play in the third.
“For us defensively, we had a couple of brain errors there and left a guy open in man coverage and that’s part of football,” said Cintorino. “People are going to make mistakes and Eastern capitalized on it.”
For Central’s offense, things went from bad to worse from that point.
Off the Lancers’ touchdown, Laviero was sacked by both Sacharko and Crowley, forcing the Rams to punt.
When the Rams got the ball back again, Burrow was tackled for a loss by Porter and Crowley and two players later, Crowley came up with a fumble recovery as it stayed a 17-6 game with 11:53 remaining.
Off another Eastern punt, Laviero was sacked three straight times in a shocking display by the Lancers’ defense.
First it was Porter with a sack.
Then it was Sacharko with one of his own.
Finally, one final bone-crunching loss at the hands of Aiudi knocked down the Central quarterback one last time.
Credit belongs to Laviero for continuing to get up from all those tackles and losses but Central was once again forced to punt.
“I give credit to them,” said Cintorino. “They did a great job defensively. Eastern really came after us defensively.”
Several critical bursts by Crowley simply chewed up the clock in the fourth period as Eastern ate up over eight minutes of game time and by the time Central go the ball back, only seconds remained in the frame.
One play later, an interception by the Lancers’ Mike Belton ended the game as Eastern held on to win by 11.
“It’s huge,” said Archangelo of the sixth straight victory. “The fans are unmatched. They come out supporting the team and these kids just play with so much emotion and it’s their memories. For these kids to put in the time and commitment these kids have put in for four years, for them to walk away with this bell is so important to them.”
NOTES…Eastern totaled exactly 300 yards in offense against Central while the Rams scooped up only 35 total yards…Burrow made nine rushes for 25 yards and just missed getting 1,000 for the season…Jake Martel was tough on both sides of the ball, making numerous tackles and picking up 31 yards off three receptions…Two players from each team were chosen as offense and defensive players of the game by the media: For Central, Jake Martel was the Rams’ offensive player of the game while Jarrett Michaels was the defensive MVP. For Eastern, Nick Crowley was the offensive player of the game while Harrison Sacharko earned the defensive nod in a complete game effort for the Lancers.
Over the past seven seasons, Bristol Central has not won a Thanksgiving Day game. In years gone by, it was Eastern who struggled on Turkey Day. Here’s a look at what the Lancers have accomplished against it’s crosstown rival since 2005, the last year Central picked up a T-Day victory:
By MICHAEL LETENDRE