By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The playoffs might not be in the future of the Bristol Eastern football team but the Thanksgiving Day clash against Bristol Central is ultra important for the Lancers none the less.
And, in a reverse situation for the Lancers this year, it’s Eastern that is looking to keep the Rams out of the playoff picture.
Over the past four of five seasons, it’s been the other way around.
But with a victory on Thanksgiving by the Lancers, that mission, that goal will be accomplished.
This won’t be an easy challenge as Central has been playing inspired ball all season long and this game isn’t in the bag like past battles.
But a 7-4 ledger won’t look too shabby and here’s what to expect from the Lancers on Turkey Day:
Head Coach: Mike Archangelo (Undefeated on Thanksgiving, 5-0)
Date and Time of the Clash: The teams lock horns on Thanksgiving morning, 10:30 am, from Muzzy Field in Bristol
Eastern Team Record: 6-4 overall
Last Year: The Lancers defeated Central 21-18 and haven’t lost on Thanksgiving since a 20-7 loss in 2005.
The Series: Eastern trails in the all-time series 31-22-2.
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: Tommy Curtin (sr., QB); Alex Hunter (jr., WR/QB/DE); Edgar Ortiz-Hernandez (so., DB); Willy Bonaparte (jr., DL); Alex Macias (sr., DB); Cyrus Tyler (sr., LB); Gerry Ouellette (sr., RB/DB); Joey Hermann (sr., WR/DB); Jeremy Meccariello (sr., WR/K); “Big” Pete Roche (WR/DB); Ramiro Sanchez (sr., DL); Allen Arbuckle (sr., WR/LB); Stephen Goodrich (sr., FB/RB/LB); Josh Sampson (jr., RB/LB); Ronte Cooper (jr., OL/DL); Sal Paparello (sr., OL/DL); Ryan Cassin (sr., OL/DL); Josh O’Keefe (jr., OL/DL); Daryien Tate (jr., WR/DB).
Why Eastern will win…The Lancers want to rush the football right out of Muzzy Field. And Eastern has the weapons to make that happen.
It will start with senior running back Gerry Ouellette (200 carries, 1,376 yards, 10 touchdowns) who has the ability to run over, under and through opposing defensive lines.
And then there’s Gerry Ouellette’s running mate, junior Alex Hunter (54 yards, 220 yards, 4 TD), who can zip up and down the field as well.
Don’t be surprised to see junior Josh Sampson and senior Steven Goodrich – if the duo are healthy – carry the ball a time or two.
At fullback, Goodrich has been everything in the Eastern running schemes.
Quarterback Tommy Curtin will keep the Central defense honest with a connection or two as seniors Joey Hermann, “Big” Pete Roche, Allen Arbuckle and Jeremy Meccariello along with junior Daryien Tate will be looking for the ball.
It’s up to that frontline to keep the Rams defense out of the pocket and help generate holes and seams in the line.
Defensively, this game belongs to Allen Arbuckle and Cyrus Tyler who all have been the backbone of the unit.
Those two have been big in stopping the opponent’s ground schemes and more of that will be needed when taking on Central’s extreme rusher D’Andre Conaway and quarterback Noah Cruz.
Eastern has been making stops all season long on defense and expect more of the same come Thanksgiving.
The X-Factor…It’s the Bristol Eastern special teams, no doubt.
What an incredible job special teams have done this year and, frankly, it’s one of the best units in school history.
The unit has cashed in on several kickoff returns, onside kicks, and all the typical tomfoolery that has confused and baffled opponents.
And that includes fumble recoveries for a touchdown.
You can’t fall asleep on punts, fourth and short situations or any time kicker Jeremy Meccariello has the ball.
Meccariello has been brilliant for the Lancers over the past four seasons and expect more of the same in the biggest game of the year.
Credit belongs to the coaching staff as well as Tim Barrette and company have really pushed all the right buttons when opponents least expect it.
Three guys to also watch will be junior Willy Bonaparte, junior Edgar Ortiz-Hernandez, and senior Justin Protinick. They’re all players who can make a game-changing play if the need arises.
Central better beware because if this game comes down to the wire, expect the unexpected from the special teams unit.
Bristol Eastern CANNOT…Just run with the football the entire 48 minutes.
Curtin must make connections to open this game up otherwise, the Rams will seriously overload on Ouellette in the Lancers’ running schemes.
And the Rams have been really good at stopping the rushing antics of opponents.
The numbers are deceiving this season but Curtin has all the ability to chuck the football and will make all the big passes if the need arises.
In this game, the need will come to pass against that very good Central defense.
And the defense must put the boom on Central quarterback Noah Cruz early and often.
But it won’t be easy because the QB is mobile, can run with the ball and truly is an elusive fellow.
Eastern’s defense has been very good this season and that 6-4 ledger is more than a little deceitful.
And, for crying out loud, the squad must keep their emotions in check.
Eastern has been called for more personal fouls this season than in recent memory and the goal is not to let Central get into the Lancers’ collective heads.
Emotion equals penalties and flags…and that’s no good.
Lastly…Don’t fall asleep on Bristol Central.
There are some weapons that must be slowed down and if Eastern can put the clamps on Conaway and not allow Cruz to make connections – or allow him to pick up big yards in the ground – Eastern will win this game.
The secondary must show up if Cruz becomes a throwing machine.
And, truly, don’t be surprised if Cruz attempts 15 to 20 passes in the Thanksgiving Day showdown.
The Lancers have the defense and there’s no need for any additional incentive to defeat the Rams.
Hey, a win over Central will certainly keep the squad out of the postseason picture.
And the winner is…This game is going to be close, it’s going to be very close. But it will be the Lancers ringing the bell once again as the Lancers pick up a big 29-24 win from Muzzy Field on Thanksgiving Day.
By MICHAEL LETENDRE