By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – When something looks too good to be true, is it really?
You mean like the “expensive’ gold watch that Central head football coach Jeff Papazian bought which left a green stain on his wrist because it wasn’t real gold?
And how about those two-for-a-dollar fish sandwiches Central freshman football coach Ryan Broderick picked from a restaurant called “Almost Steak” that sat in a freezer for over a year (without his knowledge of course)?
In both those cases, the price was right but the ultimate result left one Central football coach running for the antacids and the toilet while the other had a cool, new green tattoo that didn’t immediately wash off.
And in terms of the Thanksgiving Day war between the Rams and Bristol Eastern, its looks like a mismatch in Central’s favor, possibly something to go to be true.
Central could run all over the Lancers in a serious romp or will the Rams be reaching for some Rolaids by the time things are said and done in a losing effort?
That’s a question the Bristol Central football could quickly answer and put to bed right away.
Let’s look at the Rams on Thanksgiving as Central is going for its biggest win of the campaign:
Bristol Central – Home Team
Head Coach: Jeff Papazian (Third Thanksgiving Day game as Central’s head coach. He’s is 1-1 on Turkey Day as a coach).
Date and Time of the event: You know the time. It’s 10:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
Last Year: Central defeated Eastern by a 12-4 final in 2015.
The Series: The Rams have the edge in the all-time series 32-23-2 and look to make it two consecutive victories for the first time since 2004-05.
Series Fact: Central has only one victory over the last 10 turkey game day games (1-8-1).
Players to watch: Isaiah Miller (jr, QB/DB), Dathan Hickey (sr., WR/S), Cody Hildebrand (sr, WR/LB); Tommy Nelligan (sr, OL/DL); Conner Staubley (sr, TE/DL); Patrick Kenney (so, QB/FS); Justus Fitzpatrick (so, WR/DB); Brett Adams (sr, K); Michael Guzman (jr, OL/LB); Alex Lape (jr, OL/DL); Scott Larson (sr, OL/DL); Jalen Boxley (jr, OL/DL); Ethan Blackwood (jr, OL/Tackle); Adam Ewart (jr, DT/G); Gabe Updegraff (jr, OL/LB); Jaekwon Spencer (jr, WR).
Why Bristol Central will win…It’s all about speed folks.
Central has speed and Eastern does not.
And that’s been the story of every Bristol Eastern loss this year while the same could be said of numerous Central victories.
The ideal scenario for Central is to have Eastern running all over the field that day because a track meet like environment won’t favor the Lancers in the least
And it all starts with a crafty quarterback by the name of Isaiah Miller – an elusive QB/running back combo – who can either run the ball for 100 yards or chuck it for that much as well.
Over the first eight games of the season, Miller has connected on 62-of-120 passes (51.7-percent) for 858 total yards and six touchdowns.
Miller also averages 4.6 yards-per-carry, leads the squad in rushing touchdowns (9) and is second in carries.
And when he’s not throwing the ball, he’s helping out in the defensive secondary.
Miller is a force in the running schemes and so is back Luis Medina, a senior that gave the Lancers all types of fits in 2015 at Thanksgiving with his movement through seams in Eastern’s defensive line.
Medina leads the offense in both rushing (798 yards, which was 200+ more than the entire Eastern rushing crew has gone for) and attempts (159, 5.0 yards-per-carry).
The senior rusher is the leader on the squad in receptions (15 for 94 yards, one TD) and the Lancers must be leery of the back.
And then there’s wide receiver/safety Dathan Hickey who can blast through the defense or make connections with Miller in the secondary.
Hickey averages over eight yards a carry (in 20 tries) and has four receptions for 68 total yards.
Defensively, Hickey can cover ground in a hurry too.
Also on the receiving front, Central can plug in standouts Conner Staubley (13 catches, 224 yards, 1 TD) and Justus Fitzpatrick (13-275-2).
Both of those athletes will give defenders like Eastern’s Jaden Laprise and Jared Procko fits on the field.
Throw in a little height by Jaekwon Spencer (four for over 100 yards) and Central has some superior offensive firepower.
There’s also an outstanding defense, anchored by the likes of Tommy Nelligan and Staubley.
Those two are hungry bulldogs and expect the duo to tackle anything that moves.
Again, Central has several big advantages over Eastern.
The Rams also have what Eastern lacks this season: A signature victory.
Central’s signature victory came back on Oct. 28 when the Rams, trailing Edwin O. Smith 19-7 going into the final period of play, pulled out an amazing 20-19 win to keep its playoff push alive.
If only the Rams could get those games against South Windsor and Maloney back…
The X-Factor(s): Dathan Hickey, senior, wide receiver/safety.
Hickey can do several things well for the Central program and, frankly, there’s no one from Eastern that can keep up with him.
He can be that third running back which could surprise the Eastern defense for a couple of long runs.
Once he got reasonably healthy this year, Hickey’s defense in the secondary made big differences in games as well.
He’s a duel threat that must be marked from the onset by Eastern.
Central can’t force the issue with Hickey but if Miller can float a couple balls his ways in the offensive schemes, and if those receptions are made, it’s going to be off to the races in challenges the Lancers will not win.
I wouldn’t gamble against Hickey.
Bristol Central can NOT…Make the big mistakes.
I think Central can withstand a fumble in the showdown but not two or three.
Eastern, on the other hand, has only coughed up the ball twice all season long as sure hands on defense have created more turnovers than it has made.
But here’s the biggest deal.
There’s going to be plenty of the usual trash talking, tomfoolery, and what-not on the field of play but it’s up to Central not to buy into any of it.
Keeping a cool head and staying away from those 15-yard personal fouls should be the motto of Central at the morning game.
The Lancers might not exactly be a “red zone” darling this year but with the likes of Ariza Kolloverja, a 15-yard penalty moves the ball into a territory where Eastern can score the ball.
And, one more time (as I said last year): Do not be fooled by Eastern’s record.
This team is much better than your typical 0-9 squad and after turkey day last season, Central won the game by just a single possession as Eastern had late chances to tie the contest up.
Lastly…I’m not going to lie about it.
Muzzy Field is Central’s house.
For years, Thanksgiving Day games at Muzzy Field for the Lancers has been miserable shop of horrors and the last thing you want to do is sit down for turkey and stuffing after a 30-point loss.
Central has so many advantages in this one due to its speed, experience and even its length on the field.
And the winner is…Yeah, I said it in the Eastern preview.
I projected the Lancers win by a single point, 21-20.
And I know there’s plenty of Bristol Observer readers around Bristol Central probably getting a good laugh at this preview right now because, if Central plays its A-game, that squad could defeat the Lancers somewhere in the 42-17 range.
But this is Thanksgiving and very few things go according to plan that day.
Central might have more talent than Eastern but if Central falls into any mental traps that day, the Rams could win this one going away.
And the only team that could truly defeat Central that day will be themselves.