By MICHAEL LETENDRE
What to expect from Eastern
Most times for the Bristol scholastic programs, the Thanksgiving Day challenge – the “Battle for the Bell’ is the end of the line for the two squads.
But, for the first time since 2009, the Turkey Day game for the Bristol Eastern squad is as important as ever.
And not just in terms of wins but for state tournament qualification.
Eastern, as of Nov. 17, is in the playoff hunt – ranked eighth in the Class L standings – and getting a victory over Central is the key that unlocks that playoff door.
What should we expect from the Lancers on Thanksgiving?
Here’s a quick look:
Head Coach: Mike Archangelo (Undefeated on Thanksgiving, 4-0)
Date and Time of the Clash: The teams lock horns on Thanksgiving morning, 10:30 a.m., from Muzzy Field in Bristol
Eastern Team Record: 8-2 overall
Date and Time of the event: The squads will clash at 10:30 on Thanksgiving Day.
Last Year: Eastern defeated Central 17-6
The Series: Eastern trails in the all-time series 31-21-2 but is averaging 37.1 points-per-game over its last seven games, going 6-1.
Series Fact: The Lancers are in never-before seen territory as Eastern looks to keep Central from winning on Thanksgiving for the eighth straight game.
Players to Watch: Kenny Smith (Sr, Captain, WR/DL); Sean Aiudi (sr, Captain, WR/LB); Kyle Porter (sr, T,NG); Kyle Baker (sr, G/LB); Tommy Curtin (jr, QB); Alex Hunter (so, WR/QB/DB); Rafi Hamzy (sr, LB/DL); Alex Macias (jr, TB/CB); Dimmery Thurston (sr, WR/DB), Gerry Ouellette (jr, TB/S); Jozef Hermann (jr, WR/CB); Roderick Green (sr, WR); Jeremy Meccariello (jr, WR/K); “Big” Pete Roche (WR/DB); Roderick Green (sr, E); Shayne Harris (sr, T); Ramiro Sanchez (jr, DE); Mike Belton (sr, WR/DB); Allen Arbuckle (jr, LB); Stephen Goodrich (jr, FB/LB).
Why Eastern will win: Who’s going to stop the Eastern offensive onslaught?
Central certainly has some defensive stoppers – the Hildebrand brothers, Christian and Caleb – along with Tyler Whitten and Drew Lee that could be trouble for the Lancers.
But the problem is getting their hands on senior running back Gerry Ouellette and Mr. Everything, sophomore Alex Hunter.
Ouellette went over the 1,000-yard mark in Eastern’s 55-point win over E.O. Smith on Saturday, Nov. 16 and has 1,177 total yards on the season and 13 touchdowns off 188 rushes (6.3 yards-per-carry).
Hunter (102 carries, 6.3 yards-per-carry, 10 TD’s) isn’t easily brought down either while at QB, he averages 20.0 per throw and has thrown for three touchdowns on the year.
For Hunter, the preparation for the Central game isn’t any different than any other game this season.
“We’re just going to focus on the game plan,” said Hunter about Thanksgiving.
For the season, the Lancers have collected over 2,200 yards in offense on the ground and you have to watch seniors Roderick Green and Kenny Smith in the running schemes as well.
At QB, Tommy Curtin (38 passes, 13.5 yards-per-catch, 5 touchdowns) has been a warrior at quarterback and he can and will throw the ball, making connections all over the field.
Again, Smith and Green are the big gainers for the Lancers while Joe Hermann, Sean Aiudi and even Hunter are viable targets in the Eastern throwing schemes.
On the season, Eastern averages nearly 30 points-per-game and that spells trouble for the Central defense.
And speaking of defense, it’s on the defensive end that the Lancers have been so impressive in 2013.
Two teams this season registered negative yards against the Lancers on the ground and squads only score – on average – 14.6 points-per-game against Eastern.
Defensive standouts for Eastern includes Aiudi, Smith, Green, Joe Hermann and, of course, senior Kyle Porter.
Porter, a 6-foot-2, 295 monster, leads the Lancers in tackles for losses and is the heart and soul of the unit.
In the secondary, the Lancers have also made some big stops with 15 interceptions on the year and with Ouelette, Alex Macias and “Big” Pete Roche leading the way, Eastern is in more than capable hands.
When both lines are firing on all cylinders, Bristol Eastern becomes a tough squad to stop.
X-Factor: It’s not one player when it comes to Thanksgiving Day in terms of an X-factor.
Instead, it’s all about health.
If the Lancers can get all of its players to come to the table, healthy and able, the Rams are in big trouble.
“We just need to hopefully, get a little more healthy for Thanksgiving,” said Archangelo. “We know Bristol Central. We know what happens in that game.”
Over the season, Eastern lost key starters in the form of Kyle Baker, Rafi Hamzy, and Steven Goodrich.
Some of those players, unfortunately, won’t be back for the big game but there is always hope that a couple will make a return.
Baker came back for the Farmington showdown, made some huge stops but left the game before its completion while Goodrich – a tough warrior at fullback – was leading the charge for the running backs and found the seams in the opposing defenses for the runners to rush through before getting hurt.
And Hamzy was showing such promise on the defense end the week before he finally went down.
Even Kenny Smith was banged up a bit during that E.O. Smith game.
Getting back to full strength – or as close as possible – is a big deal for Eastern on Thanksgiving.
Bristol Eastern cannot…turn this game into a mano-o-mano battle and get overhyped because the Lancers – on many instances this season – have made huge plays, huge runs, huge stops – and then drawn foolish penalties to negate all that goodness.
Whether it was personal fouls, holding calls, or other gaffes, drawing flags seems to be an every day event for the Lancers when the squad takes the field.
And, you can count on Central trying to draw Eastern into penalties and making mistakes to keep the Rams in the game.
“It’s always a competitive game,” said Archangelo. “Emotions runs high.”
Those emotions must be kept in check by the Lancers or else, Central will get additional chances in the game to inflict damage in the contest.
Lastly…Eastern is rolling right now and that momentum has the Lancers on the cusp of a playoff berth.
But Central will come into the game fresh off two big victories so the Rams have some confidence on its end as well.
Throw out the records because there will be nothing easy about the game for Eastern.
“They’re coming off two really big wins the last two weeks,” said Archangelo of Central. “We know we’re going to have our hands full with them.”
If Eastern intends to cram the ball down the Ram’s collective throats, Central’s defense will be challenged to make stops.
At 8-2, the Lancers enter the game in the pole position and if the squad puts on its usual Grade-A performance, it’s tough to visualize an Eastern loss.
And a loss against the Rams this Thanksgiving would be nearly devastating.
By the way, a number of squads in Class L could loss games on and before Thanksgiving to help Eastern out.
It’s possible the Lancers could move up a rung in the playoff standings but a victory all but assures a postseason tournament date (let’s hope it’s not against New Canaan).
And the winner is…This is a team poised, focused and ready for a postseason berth…that’s why Eastern defeats Central 48-12 on Thanksgiving.