By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – With just four-and-a-half minutes to go in its showdown against Middletown, the Bristol Central football team’s defense forced a safety, added two points to its tally and was looking for a knock-out scoring drive that would have made it a two possession game.
However, that score never came and Middletown cashed in a two huge scoring plays as the Blue Dragons came-from-behind to capture a 17-9 win from Central’s turf field in Bristol.
Central (1-3 overall) had Middletown (4-0) on its own nine yard line when the defense forced that safety, as the ball rolled around the end zone and when the Blue Dragons recovered it in the zone, two points were awarded to the Rams, nabbing a 9-3 edge.
“Our defense played their tails off all night,” said Central coach Jeff Papazian. “We had a real good week of practice. Even with that, you never know because to simulate that size and that speed in practice isn’t what we’re able to do [or] many teams are able to do. We thought they prepared real well.”
“Coach [Sal] Cintorino had a real good game plan going into it, the kids executed and I don’t know what the total yardage situation [was but] take away those two chucks in the end and I’m thinking we were in pretty good shape.”
Those two chucks were a 90-yard reception and a blazing 69 yard rush by Middletown that both led to scores.
But after that safety, the Rams were looking to salt the event away.
Off the free kick, Central went three-and-out but Middletown had to star t that game-tying drive on its own 10-yard line.
Middletown QB Jonta’e Dempsey-Brown (9-for-21, 142 yards, TD) found receiver Kenneth Fountain for a quick dump off.
From there, it was all yards-after-the-catch as Fountain eventually sprinted into the end zone as the 90 yard touchdown reception gave the Blue Dragons the lead for good at 10-9 with 3:04 to play.
However, Central was still in it and fighting.
And Central’s offense was back at it, using sweeps to the outside to churn up rushing yardage and then throwing in a pass or two to move the chains.
Darrell Payton (13 carries, 40 yards) made a huge reception during that drive, as did Nate Rosa, and Central was nearing Middletown’s red zone with 90-seconds left.
But Central quarterback Justus Fitzpatrick (16 carries, 96 yards, TD), who left it all on the field that night, was picked off by Dempsey-Brown and suddenly, the Blue Dragons were back to work offensively.
“We were better offensively this week than we were last week,” said Papazian. “But we’ve got to finish in these situations. When you get down there, get inside the twenty, things get tighter. It’s a different game down there and that’s kind of the frustrating part.”
“[We were] moving the ball, moving the ball, moving the ball and we can’t punch it in.”
Operating on its own 31-yard line, Middletown’s Xzavier Reyes found a seam in the Central defense and it was off to the races.
Sixty-nine yards later, through plenty of Central traffic, Middletown scored again and off the extra point, it was 17-9 with 46 seconds left.
But still, it was just a one-possession game.
A late catch by Jose Navedo was the only additional offense the Rams were able to muster as Central fell by eight.
Central nearly had 200 yards in ground offense and Fitzpatrick added 56 yards from the air.
And that front line helped the offense get a couple extra seconds when those offensive packages were able to open up.
“It was a 100-percent improvement from last week by our offense, especially from our kids up front,” said Papazian.
There was lost chances on offense throughout the contest for Central but the same could be said of Middletown.
The Rams showed excellent time management throughout the game but that also hurt them offensively as Central was at the Middletown four yard line with seconds to go in the second period but time ran out on a potential scoring chance.
For Middletown, Fountain was all alone in what should have been an easy reception midway through the second period but he started running before making the catch as neither squad was able to secure a touchdown.
The only score of the first half was a 21 yard field goal by Middletown’s Matthew Aresco with 9:54 to play in the second frame.
Central’s D’Ante Ross made an interception of a Dempsey pass, which helped keep it a 3-0 at the half and anyone’s game.
“They held up and I think that’s the strength of our team,” said Papazian of the secondary. “We’ve got good athletes back there, we’ve got older kids back there that are experienced and they should be making those plays. They should be able to play with those guys. They did a great job tonight.”
Central’s defense forced a three-and-out to open the third period and when the home team got the ball back, Fitzpatrick put in a big score.
Navedo made a huge 44 punt return to get to Middletown’s 30 and from there, Fitzpatrick zipped it in for a 30-yard TD and with 10:52 to play in the stanza, it was a 7-3 game in Central’s favor.
That was the score of the game until 4:30 remaining in the fourth when Central’s cushion was raised to 9-3 via the safety.
From there, Middletown scored on both its final drives to secure its eight-point win.
“Like I told the kids, we’re in the teeth of our schedule right now,” said Papazian. “You’ve got Windsor, Wethersfield. Now you’ve got Middletown and then we get a week off and we get Maloney. You’re talking about three top-20 teams in the state out of five. And I’m not making excuses at all for it.”
“I feel that we’re a good team, I feel we’re a good program and want to play other good teams. Unfortunately tonight, we were on the short end of the stick.”
Comments? Email mletendre@BristolObserver.com
PHOTOS by JANELLE MORELLI