By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – Anytime you can a hang a loss on the Berlin football program, it’s a big deal.
And for the Bristol Eastern football squad – at home for its fourth annual campus game from its school grounds – it was a chance to pick up one of the program’s biggest victories on the grandest stage of them all.
With the game in the balance, Berlin botched a catch off an Eastern punt, leading to a critical fumble and a quick turnaround Eastern score by Gerry Ouellette as his second touchdown of the day gave the Lancers a two-score lead.
By the final horn, the Lancers held on to beat Berlin for the first time ever in school history and racked up an impressive 21-14 win on Friday, Sept. 14.
But this game wasn’t about the offense at all.
It came down to defense and defensive execution.
With the Lancers ahead by seven at 14-7 early in the fourth and final tilt, Berlin’s Nate Campbell snatched a 22-yard reception from quarterback Mitch Williams and the Redcoats had a first-and-goal at the Eastern three yard-line.
Could Berlin find a way to punch in one more touchdown to tie up the game?
No chance as the Lancers held the line and forced a game-changing turnover.
Off a tackle for a loss by co-captain Sean Aiudi and Steve Goodrich – coupled with a fourth down deflection by defensive standout and team co-captain Ken Smith as Williams tried to slip in an end zone pass – Berlin’s best offensive chance of the game quickly melted away.
“We challenged them (our players) in the beginning and we told them this was going to be a physical game,” said Bristol Eastern coach Mike Archangelo. “Berlin was going to come out and run some things that we hadn’t seen. We knew that. We made some adjustments, the kids stepped up and our backs were up against the wall a couple times there.”
“They just made a stand there…it was great.”
The Lancers added an insurance tally with less than four minutes to play to make it a two possession game.
Eastern, dry on three straight downs, was forced to punt with the Lancers leading 14-7.
Off a beautiful kick by Jeremy Meccariello, Berlin speedster Eric Garcia wasn’t looking to bring it back and quickly called for a fair catch.
But Garcia bobbled the ball off the attempted catch and it zipped right off of the receiver.
Players from both teams gave chase and in the end, Eastern’s Joe Hermann snatched the ball off the ground and the Lancers were in business at the Berlin four yard-line.
And two Ouellette rushes later, he punched in the ball off a four yard jaunt as Eastern surged ahead 21-7 with 3:08 remaining in the game and time was running out on Berlin.
“That was huge,” said Archangelo of the Garcia fumble. “He was a young kid, I imagine, and in the situation, it was tough – maybe the lighting was tough. It ended up in our favor and we were able to capitalize on it.”
However, there was still plenty of game left to be played and Berlin used a little tomfoolery to get within one score of knotting things up.
Off a huge sack by Smith and an incomplete pass by Williams, the Redcoats were hanging on by a thread and were down to a fourth-and-20 scenario.
On the Eastern 31, Williams slipped in a pass to Campbell on the right side of the field and when it looked as if he would be stopped by the Lancers’ defense, the tricky commenced.
Campbell tossed the ball up to a charging Garcia as he scampered into the end zone – off a 12 yard jaunt – and made it a 21-14 contest with 2:05 remaining.
The clock simply would not tick down fast enough from the Eastern standpoint and off a squib kick, the Lancers had the ball with just over two minutes left to play.
It was up to Eastern to net one, final first down to end the game but Berlin stopped the clock twice as the Lancers were on its own 47 on a third-and-14 situation with 1:48 left.
Nineteen yards later off a tremendous jaunt by Ouellette right up the gut, Eastern snatched a fresh set of downs and the Redcoats were helpless to stop the clock as the Lancers simply ran it down to the final horn.
Eastern never trailed in the showdown and off Eastern’s first set of downs, the Lancers got onboard immediately in the first period of play.
A critical pass interference call gave Eastern a first down to set up the score and off a sweet spiral by Curtin, Pete Roche notched a 11-yard touchdown pass – his first in an Eastern uniform – that made it a 7-0 game just 4:13 into the game.
On the next series, Berlin tied the thing up at 7-7 as Garcia took it in 13 yards off a sprint out to the left side of the goal and the game was afoot with 5:56 left to play in the first stanza.
Berlin didn’t score again until the late stages of the final quarter.
To start the second frame, Smith was the receiver of choice and off three straight receptions by the senior , it set up Ouellette for a four yard touchdown scamper as Eastern’s 14-7 edge – with 10:41 left – held into the half.
By MICHAEL LETENDRE