By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – Are you ready for a little Thanksgiving football?
Well, the boys over at Bristol Eastern are itching to get back to the pay window once again on the holiday.
Offensively, the Lancers have been showing much better as of late and that firepower will be needed to take on cross-town rival Bristol Central.
And while the program has picked up only two wins in 2017, that’s two more than last season going into the biggest game of the campaign.
If the Lancers can put together two halves of football, something the squad has struggled with this year, Eastern will have a chance in this showdown.
Let’s take a quick peak at Bristol Eastern on Thanksgiving at the 58th edition of the Battle for the Bell:
Bristol Eastern – Home Team
Head Coach: Anthony Julius (Second Thanksgiving as Eastern head coach; 0-1 on Turkey Day)
Date and Time of the annual event: The teams clash on Thanksgiving morning (Nov. 23), 10:30 a.m., from Muzzy Field in Bristol
Eastern 2017 Team Record: 2-7 overall
Last Year: Eastern lost to Central 30-12.
The Series: The Lancers trail in the all-time series 32-23-2.
Series Fact: The Lancers won the event from 2007-2014 but have dropped the past two – outscored 42-16 over that time frame.
Players to Watch: Andrew Consalvo (sr, T,/NG); Rajon Collins (sr, TE/DL); Keegan Bartis (sr, G); Ben Ferraro (sr, TE/LB); Ariza Kolloverja (sr, TB/S, captain); Andrew Cercone (sr, DL); Jake Lafferty (sr, QB/DL); Justin Davies (sr, OL/DL, captain); Tyler Varasconi (sr, E); Tyler Mason (sr, LB captain); John McPhee (sr, K); James Dauphinee (jr, G); Justin Marshall (jr, QB); Jaden Laprise (jr, WR/CB); Trinidad Gonzalez (jr, RB/LB); Matt D’Amato (so, FB); David Tyminski (jr, LB); Zach Giblin (jr, OL/DL); Bryce Curtin (so, DB); Elijah Gagliardo (so, WR/DB); Dylan Garcia (so, DL); Edgar Santiago Jr. (so, FB/DL)
Why Eastern could win…Why not?
You know the deal: Throw out the records, even-steven, etc, etc…
And that logic applies to Thanksgiving Day football as well because, though not the rushing contingent Central is, Eastern will be able to move the ball during the event.
Remember last year’s final results: Negative rushing yards for the game as Eastern seemed like its offense was stuck in the mud.
This will not be a repeat performance and a very good offensive line, highlighted by linebackers Andrew Consalvo, Hidekel Mangual, James Dauphinee, Zach Giblin, and Keegan Bartis will give its offense every chance in this one.
The offensive line has been good this year and, outside of the Wethersfield game, penalties have been kept to a minimum so the offense will get every chance to excel.
The Lancers can and will throw the ball for significant yardage and junior quarterback Justin Marshall has been building quite a resume for himself over the past two seasons or so.
He’s thrown for just under 1,300 yards this season, joining a short list of quarterbacks at Eastern who have chucked the ball for 1,000-plus yards in a season.
And remember what happened to him last year at the BC/BE game, leaving the contest early after that tough shoulder injury?
Think Marshall is looking for a little payback?
Marshall will make connections with the slick Jaden Laprise, another junior standout, and the combination has been quite lethal this season.
Laprise has over 35 catches on the campaign and that’s one of the top marks in program history.
He rolled up 238 receiving yards in the historic 52-39 loss to Platt this past fall (were those 238 receiving yards an Eastern record? Hmmm…) and has the best pair off hands on the squad.
Jack-of-all-trade senior Ariza Kolloverja can do damage in both the rushing and passing schemes and if he’s lined up in the backfield, he’s quite an elusive fellow.
Senior back Steven Hopkins is a bulldog as well while Tyler Mason is an excellent blocker but will run the ball on occasion for additional yardage.
Defensively, Eastern’s best is Trinidad Gonzalez and, even though he missed a game due to injury earlier in the season, he leads the squad in tackles – getting 10-plus tackles three times this year.
With the exception of the Platt game – a contest that saw the squads combine for 91 points, the most combined points ever scored in an Eastern contest – the defense has been much improved from 2016.
The X-Factor…Matt D’Amato.
The sophomore always seems to be on the field and making plays that don’t show up in the stat sheet.
He’s steady in both the offensive and defense schemes and he’s liable to make a 10-yard rush if given the chance.
D’Amato is another one of Eastern’s bulldogs on the turf and if something is going to happen – at least in the positive sense – he’s the one that’s going to be involved in the play.
And don’t underestimate that defensive line of Rajon Collins, Tyler Varasconi, Edgar Santiago Jr., Jake Lafferty, Hopkins, and Consalvo, along with the work of Gonzalez that will give Central’s offense grief – another x-factor of the game.
Bristol Eastern can NOT…Let Bristol Central run the ball to the outside.
If the Lancers want to run up and down the field with the Rams, forget about it.
If Eastern lets Hickey, Payton, and Fitzpatrick run wild, forget about it.
If the Lancers have talented kicker John McPhee complete kickoffs and punts to the ultra-talented Dathan Hickey, Darrell Payton, or Justus Fitzpatrick, forget about it.
That trio is talented, fast, and will turn a small gain into something big if the Lancers’ defense isn’t careful.
And, for crying out loud, make that first tackle count!
Eastern defenders have consistently gotten to their spots this season, just to watch an elusive back pile up additional yardage via yards-after-contact and continue to scamper on.
If Central is allowed 25-or more points in the contest, it’s going to be tough for Eastern to keep pace.
The Lancers are going to have to grind this one out.
Lastly…This squad has to forget some of the near-misses of the past season and play the full 48 minutes against the Rams.
Forget about the Hartford Public tomfoolery, the field goal that wasn’t to end the half, or just before halftime against Wethersfield when Eastern punched in a touchdown that was never recognized by the officials.
And forgot about the scoreless second halves in the Wethersfield and Manchester contests.
This is a brand new game, the biggest of the year.
The contest is Eastern’s state tournament final and must be treated as such.
The Lancers have the poise to win this game and now this group must show it on the biggest stage of them all, on Thanksgiving.
And the winner is…Well, this should be more than a competitive game this year between the Bristol schools.
Record-wise, Central looks like the favorite and that makes sense but Eastern has risen to the occasion on more than a couple occasions this season and the Lancers winning this thing could be a distinct possibility.
There’s a tenacity about this Eastern team and that signature win is still out there, ready to be had.
The Eastern coaching staff, headed by Julius, is a very good crew who have adapted well each week and given the players the best formula for victory.
If Eastern can contain Central’s running attack, victory number three will be a sweet one.
Want a prediction? Come on…who do you think is going to win this game?
Comments? Email mletendre@BristolObserver.com.