By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The Bristol Central and Bristol Eastern football squads turned the 61st edition of the Thanksgiving Day clash into an instant classic.
Each team scored four times during regulation and when 48 minutes couldn’t determine the ultimate victor, the game needed overtime.
The Lancers scored first in the extra session, taking a six-point lead.
However, Central quarterback Victor Rosa and the offensive line had a response.
On Central’s first possession of overtime, Rosa sprinted into the Eastern goal off a daring 10 yard touchdown run and with the score tied up at 32-32 – and a possible second OT looming – the speedster rushed in the two point conversion to salt the thing away.
And off that final tally, Central came away with a huge 34-32 win from Muzzy Field in Bristol.
“What can you say?” said Central coach Jeff Papazian. “Eastern went toe-to-toe with us, certainly outplayed us for a lot of the game I would say. Our penalties really, really hurt and almost came back to bite us. [But] credit my kids. They never stopped playing.”
The Rams pushed their final record to .500 (5-5) while the Lancers ended the campaign at 2-8.
However, Eastern just didn’t show up to play its rival. The Lancers came to win it and nearly did in the end.
“I told [the players] after the game how proud I was of them,” said Eastern coach Anthony Julius. “They literally fought to the end.”
And to end regulation, a last second, fourth quarter touchdown drive by the Lancers saw speedster Alex Marshall (36 carries, 157 yards, three touchdowns) rush in a one yard score – knotting the showdown at 26-26 and giving a chance for Eastern’s outstanding PAT kicker, Jack Bachand, to close out the contest with an extra point.
Off the first attempt, Central was called for off-sides – one of nearly two dozen penalties (for 163 yards) that nearly doomed the Rams – and Eastern crept even closer to the goal posts.
But off the second PAT snap, Bachand’s kick was blocked by Ian Staubley and when Central couldn’t score off the final play of the fourth quarter, overtime commenced and the Rams eventually pulled out the win.
Rosa (31 rushes, 171 yards, five TDs) was simply electric – finishing up with over 1,000 yards for the season – while teammates Shawn Rodriguez (5-70) and Galen Hickey helped to augment the offense.
Marshall also left it all on the field while Eastern quarterback Bryce Curtin (8-for-11, 71 yards) threw two touchdowns and made huge connections with Treyvon Daniel (two catches, 21 yards), Logan Schenck (4-37), and captain Edgar Santiago (1-4, TD).
Marshall ended up as the Bristol Eastern Offensive Player of the Game while Bobby Mosback earned Defensive Player of the Game honors with some excellent second half tackling.
On the flip side, Rosa took home the Bristol Central Offensive Player of the Game and for defense – especially off his outstanding first half tackling efforts – Jakob Salinas earned the Defensive Player of the Game award.
“He’s around the ball all the time,” said Papazian of Salinas. “He’s making plays left and right for us and that’s the obvious part of his game. But what people don’t see or don’t understand as much are all the other things he does for us as far as getting us lined up, making play calls, [and] knowing where everybody is on the defense.”
Eastern went into halftime leading 7-6 but certainly had chances in the Central red zone early on that could have stretched out that edge a bit more.
The Lancers, off the power of Marshall’s running game, put together a game-opening 13-play, 52 yard drive to get to the Rams’ 10 yard-line but Eastern ended up turning the ball over on downs.
Central then went four and out only because a brilliant punt by Hickey was called back due to a penalty and off the ensuing play, the punter took off with the ball but was dropped short of a first down with just over three minutes left to play in the first quarter.
However, Marshall fumbled on his first carry of the next drive as Central’s Eric Facey recovered the ball for the Rams.
On a nine play drive that lasted into the second period, Hickey ended the series with a quick handoff to Rosa who skipped into the end zone for a two yard TD score but when the two point conversion toss failed, Central’s lead was 6-0 with 9:08 left to play in the half.
And then it was Eastern’s turn to respond.
Once again, Marshall made all the tough drives, Schenck took in a critical six yard reception, and thanks to an offsides penalty by Central, Eastern punched home a touchdown.
Santiago bulldozed the trail and Marshall slipped into the left side of the goal off a four-yard jaunt.
Bachand quickly booted in the extra-point and with 3:23 remaining in the second period, Eastern grabbed a 7-6 lead.
Central attempted to answer but a big tackle for a loss from Cameron Cruz and Santiago eventually forced the Rams to punt.
Two plays later, the halftime horn sounded and the Lancers sprinted into the locker room ahead by one.
And that was only the beginning of the madness.
Central needed just seven plays to regain the edge in the second half as Rosa zipped up the middle of the Eastern pack for a six yard touchdown rush but off the failed two-point conversion run, the Rams’ cushion was only 12-7 with 7:44 to go in the third.
Eastern responded off a steady diet of Marshall runs – with a Curtin jaunt mixed in – but with 4:16 left in the stanza, the Eastern running back skipped in a yard for six and off a Bachand extra-point, the Lancers were back on top by a 14-12 push.
But as the exciting quarter was coming to a close, the Rams were on the verge of scoring again.
That two-point Eastern lead held into the fourth frame but two plays into the final 12 minutes, Rosa punched in a touchdown on a one yard gambit and this time, Shawn Rodriguez ran in the two-point conversion to push the Central advantage to 20-14 with 11:07 remaining in regulation.
“There was nothing crazy we were running on offense,” said Papazian. “[The run] has been our bread and better all year.”
Eastern refused to yield and seven plays later on the following drive, mixed in with two Central flags, Curtin slipped in a sweet 20-yard TD pass to a wide open Logan Schenck through the middle to tie the score at 20-20 with 6:37 left.
But Central’s Ian Staubley blocked the extra-point attempt that would have given the Lancers the lead as the game remained a stalemate with plenty of time left on the clock.
On the ensuing drive, Mosback and Logan Meyer made tackles-for-losses and Central faced a 4-and-13 situation – forcing a Hickey punt.
Off an excellent punt, Eastern set-up shop at its own 24, looking to put the thing away with a long, sustained drive.
But Rosa intercepted a Curtin pass at midfield as Central had the ball at the Eastern 48 with 1:58 left in the fourth quarter.
The Rams worked the ball into the red zone but after another loss, again from a tackle by Meyer, Central was facing a second-and-goal on the nine-yard line.
And Rosa the blasted by two defenders on his way to his fourth touchdown, via the nine yard score, but Eastern’s Tyler Gleifert broke-up the two-point conversion pass – keeping it a 26-20 with Central in the lead and a minute remaining in regulation.
Eastern started its final scoring drive of the fourth period on its own 23 and got right to work.
“With a minute left, in the wind and a lot of yards to go, we could have easily packed it up and gone home,” said Julius. “But the kids fought, they drove it down and they scored to give us a chance to win it in regulation.”
Daniel made a nine-yard rush to start the drive but a personal foul on Central nearly moved the ball to midfield.
Marshall and Daniel then made rushes, Central had yet another penalty, and when Schenck nabbed another catch, Eastern was on the Rams’ 27 yard-line with 30 seconds to go.
Excellent time management by Eastern saw Tre’von Singleton make a huge nine yard reception and off a timeout, the Lancers were on the Central 14 – in the red zone and knocking on the door.
And then Daniel nearly took a Curtin pass into the end zone, making a daring sprint to the right side of the goal but was eventually forced out of bounds at the Central two yard-line and with 10 second left.
The Rams were then caught off-sides, moving the ball to the one. From there, Marshall scored his third touchdown off a one yard TD sprint as Eastern had the event tied up at 26-26 off the eight play, 67 yard drive.
But there was Staubley again, blocking the extra-point kick and with six seconds to go, the game remained 26-26.
“Those [extra-point] blocks were huge. It hurt us,” said Julius. “I probably should have gone for two after Central blocked the first one but hindsight is always 20-20. I had faith that our guys were going to get the job done. And you’ve got to credit Central. They made a big play.”
A last second toss by Rosa fell incomplete and overtime was needed in the first series tie since 2006 (14-14).
Eastern had the ball first in OT and off three rushes by Marshall, the Lancers were on Central’s four yard line. But it was fourth and goal.
Unfazed, Curtin found an open Santiago in the end zone who eventually scooped in the ball off one heck of a grab – landing in the goal for six points – to push the Eastern lead out to 32-26.
“He saved it for the right time for sure,” said Julius of Santiago’s first touchdown catch of the year. “And what a catch too because it was low, he’s got a cast on his hand…what an unbelievable play by that guy.”
The two-point conversion toss failed and Central took its turn to score.
Rosa, scoring for the fifth time on the day, made it academic as his rushed in 10 yards that tied it and quickly made a quick move right on the two-point conversion to score, helping the Rams to the 34-32 victory.
“As bleak as things looked at times, quite a few times out there, they kept playing, kept sticking with what we worked on all week, all year really,” said Papazian of his squad. “In the end, we managed to pull it out.”
“I couldn’t be more proud of the guys,” said Julius. “When you play a game like this, there are so many ebbs and flows of it so for us to be able to ride that the whole day was really impressive by our guys.”