By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – There’s going to come a time when the Bristol Central football team will break through their current streak of bad luck against Bristol Eastern on Thanksgiving.
And the way the Rams played against Lancers on Saturday, Nov. 29, that elusive victory might be on the horizon in 2015.
Off the 20-18 loss to Eastern, it was obvious to coaches, fans and players alike that the Bristol Central football team is back on top and for real.
That 7-3 record was hardly a fluke in 2014 and frankly, one additional fumble in that Thanksgiving’s challenge could have propelled the Rams to the playoffs.
Indeed, it was that close in the Battle for the Bell.
He won’t take it, but you must credit Central head coach Jeff Papazian on the wonderful job he did in his first season as the top man for the Rams, taking over for another good coach, Sal Cintorino.
“Bristol Central was a phenomenal program this year,” said Eastern assistant coach A.J. Julius. “Jeff did an outstanding job in his first year as head coach. And they’re in really good hands up there.”
Talk about kids buying into the program, this was a complete turnaround by the Rams and the first winning ledger since 2007.
That 2007 team, led by the exploits of star wide receiver Aaron Hernandez and quarterback Matt Coyne – two successful athletes on the collegiate level as well – helped Central to an 8-1-1 overall record.
But in a weird, chance circumstance, both the 2007 and 2014 squads from Central needed to defeat the Lancers on Thanksgiving to qualify for state tournament play.
And while it didn’t happen for either Central edition (Central tied with Eastern, 14-14, in 2006), who could be upset with those outstanding finishes?
“They’re only going to get better,” said Julius of Central. “And that’s going to keep making the rivalry more challenging. You’re going to see more nail-bitters like this (during Thanksgiving) just because of the job his staff does with his kids.”
This was another senior-laden squad that put three years of frustration behind them to come out as winners during their final season of play.
And again, it’s a credit to Papazian and a strong senior crew.
Those seniors, headlined by captains D’Andre Conaway, Caleb Hildebrand, and Jacob Hall, were true leaders this season on both sides of the ball.
Along with seniors Harry Patten, Franco Patria, Justin Scott, Drew Lee, Kadeem Richards, Jaavon Gordon, Adam Flores, Jordan Meisinger, Alex Milosevic, Quentin Blackwood, Jack Thomasen, Zach Jacobs, and Collin Newman, they all paid their dues to get to enjoy the 7-3 campaign of this past season.
Conaway (1,412 yards on 228 carries, 17 TDs) and Lee (28 receptions, 542 yards, 6 TDs) had huge senior campaigns.
And yes, the rush was a big part of the game for Central in 2014 just as it was for Eastern.
“We’re very similar,” said Barrette of the Eastern and Central football programs. “Jeff’s done a heck of a job over there [as well as] his whole staff. They’re headed in the right direction.”
And there’s still a strong future for this squad, led by an outstanding quarterback by the name of Noah Cruz.
The junior did a little of everything this past fall and put up some legitimate numbers he will improve upon in 2015.
He threw for 848 yards on 49-of-104 passing, including 11 touchdowns, while rushing 281 yards on 61 carries – leading to eight touchdowns in a very good season’s worth of work.
He’ll be the leader of the squad next season and with another offseason for the Rams under Papazian and his staff, the sky is the limit for Bristol Central football.
“I’ll tell you what, they’re going to have some great years coming up with that staff,” said Eastern assistant coach Tim Barrette. “They’re knowledgable, they’re enthusiastic, and the kids are great students of the game and citizens of the school as well.”
NOTES…Is it too early to look ahead at Bristol Central’s 2015 schedule? With Avon joining the mix, the Rams will be battling some old foes and reacquainting themselves with friends from days gone by. Here’s a quick look at Central’s 2015 “tentative” schedule:
Sept. 11 vs. Windsor
Sept. 18 at Wethersfield
Sept. 25 at Bulkeley
Oct. 2 vs. Platt
Oct. 9 BYE Week
Oct. 16 at Avon
Oct. 23 vs. Newington
Oct. 30 vs. South Windsor
Nov. 6 at Maloney
Nov. 13 vs. East Hartford
Thanksgiving at Bristol Eastern