By MICHAEL LETENDRE
MIDDLETOWN – It would be too easy to look at Bristol Eastern’s 35-0 loss to Middletown in a Central Connecticut Conference Division II crossover challenge on Friday, Sept. 16 as a total collapse on both sides of the ball.
The Eastern special teams made a few gaffes during the encounter and after a rough start, the defense – and special teams – played extremely well but against one of the state’s best teams, the start doomed the ending.
“I just told the kids I thought the effort was really really good and I thought they slugged it out with a team that is probably going to be a high seed in the state tournament come December,” said Eastern coach Anthony Julius.
Over the first 10:19 of the game, the Blue Dragons (2-0) turned the game opening kickoff return into seven points while two short field set-ups – off fumbled punts by the Lancers – gave the home squad two quick scores and with 1:41 left to play in the first, it was already a 21-0 deficit for the Lancers.
Middletown QB Stone Belzo was 14-for-20 for 162 yards in the contest with two touchdowns, on passes of 12 and 28 yards over the second half of play as insurance scores.
Nico Cavaliere and DeAaron Lawrence each made touchdown receptions in the game for the Blue Dragons.
To open the showdown, Cavaliere busted loose for a 71 yard kickoff return, getting through a couple missed Eastern tackles, and 14 seconds into things, Middletown led 7-0.
But Eastern quickly marched down the field on the ensuing drive, making four receptions for first downs as quarterback Justin Marshall (14-for-24, 132 yards, zero interceptions) connected with Jaden Laprise (six catches, 58 yards), Ariza Kolloverja (3-34), Matt D’Amato (and Elijah Gagliardo (2-21) to keep the chains moving.
“I thought Justin played a really good game tonight,” said Julius of Marshall. “He took some shots tonight. Sometimes, I wanted him to get rid of the ball a little quicker to save himself but he hung in there in the pocket and delivered some really good throws. It caused some fits for [Middletown] on defense a little bit. They kind of had to change what they wanted to do defensively.”
“I was really proud of his effort and I thought he showed how tough he was.”
The Lancers got as close as the Middletown 37 yard line but after a sack, the punt snap was fumbled and Middletown took over from Eastern’s 32 yard line.
Belzo then made a 19-yard touchdown run, going out and jamming himself to the right side of the field for a score and when the extra point was good, Middletown scooped up a 14-0 edge.
Eastern had another solid drive but off another botched punt attempt and fumble, Middletown took over even closer this time, operating on Eastern’s own 19.
Xavier Reyes then scampered into the end zone via a nine run up the gut, eluding the defense along
the way, and off the Mike Aresco kick, the Blue Dragons scooped up a 21 point lead
with 1:41 left in the first frame.
But from there, it would be nearly 22 minutes before the Blue Dragons scored again, thanks to the Eastern defense.
“After a really bad first quarter defensively and special team wise, we rebounded and played pretty well the rest of the game,” said Julius.
The home team was only able to muster up 14 additional points over the final 37:19 of play.
Eastern got back into Middletown territory late in the second period but the drive was stalled at the home team’s 42 yard line and again to open the third when the Lancers pushed to the Blue Dragons 39 before coming up empty.
“We had some opportunities on offense throughout the night,” said Julius. “I thought we moved the ball pretty well at times against a really really good defense that gives a lot of teams a lot of fits.”
Middletown scored again late in the third when Cavaliere snatched a 12 yard pass from Belzo on a nice little dump and with 3:52 to go in the third, the home team drew a 28-0 cushion.
Then on Middletown’s final drive of the evening, Belzo found DeAaron Lawrence for a 28 yard touchdown reception and with 9:39 left, it was a 35-0 contest.
Late in the game, Eastern broke into the red zone as running back Steven Hopkins barreled his way through more than a few defenders before ending the contest on the Middletown 14 as time expired.
In the end, the 35-0 contest was the second loss of the season for the Eastern program but another important building block that will eventually lead to victory number one this year.
“I’m happy with the effort the kids showed after we kind of rebounded” from a tough start said Julius. “Unfortunately, when you play a team as good as Middletown, you’re got to put it together for four quarters, not three. We’ll use it as a learning experience and we’ll come back, ready to go next Friday night against Maloney.”
Comments? Email mletendre@BristolObserver. com