By MICHAEL LETENDRE
BRISTOL – The Bristol Central football team dropped a tough 31-8 decision to an extremely physical Conard squad on Friday, Nov. 15 in a CCC Interdivisional clash from the turf field of Bristol Central High School.
The Rams (4-5) had some quality chances with the football, moving it well, but Conard (6-3) made all the big stops as fumbles, turnovers on downs, and costly gaffes foiled the locals — keeping the Chieftains’ fleeting playoff chances alive.
“We couldn’t finish,” said Central coach Jeff Papazian. “We had turnovers, some untimely penalties and we couldn’t punch it in. I don’t know how many times were we inside the 30 there and came away with nothing.”
Conard’s Arsen Stefan led the offense with 19 rushes for 125 yards while quarterback Israel Lopez (9-for-17, 145 yards) threw for two second quarter touchdowns to make it a 24-8 game with 1:31 remaining in the first half.
Central’s Victor Rosa (17 rushes, 153 yards) misdirected the Conard defense with some slick runs, churning up over 250 yards in combined offense while making connections with Tre Jones (3 catches, 53 yards) and Galen Hickey (4-39) to keep the ball moving down the field.
Central just couldn’t keep its defense off the field over critical junctures of the contest as Conard went to work from the opening kickoff.
Stefan needed three plays to pick up 46 yards and a touchdown as his six yard TD jaunt made it a 7-0 contest just 31 seconds into the fray.
On Central’s first drive, the squad battled into the red zone and Rosa was making a move to the Chieftains 15 yard line but Conard’s Joey Lemieux stripped the QB of the ball and the turnover eventually led to a 27 yard field goal by Peter Simplicio – making it a 10-0 contest with 5:07 left in the first period.
“They’re a big physical team, we knew that coming in,” said Papazian. “You try to prepare for it the best you can and obviously, they were a lot more physical than us tonight and it showed.”
“That being said, we had our chances, too.”
Central cashed in on the ensuing possession as a 10-play, 79-yard drive saw Rosa go up the gut for a one-yard score and when the quarterback found a falling Jones in the end zone for the two-point conversion, the Rams chopped the deficit to 10-8 with 36 seconds remaining in the first period.
Unfortunately, Central never scored again.
Both teams then turned the ball over on fourth-and-short situations — leading to Conard quarterback Israel Lopez finding Sean Rivera for a 35 touchdown connection as Central’s deficit grew to 17-8.
A three-and-out by the Rams led to the another touchdown by the Chieftains as Lopez found Shtefan for a 12-yard TD connection and with 1:31 remaining in the half, Conard was on top by 16, 24-8.
Central got the ball to start the third period, turning it over on downs, but when Central’s Orlando Baldwin came up with a critical interception of Lopez, the Rams were back in business, trailing by just two possessions with 6:54 remaining in the third tilt.
Another fumble was quickly recovered by Conard; but Hickey plucked a Lopez offering for another pickoff and with 2:42 remaining in the third, Central was in Conard territory.
But a later knock away by Lemieux on a possible Hickey touchdown reception, leading to a turnover, but the Central defense held and midway through the final period, it was still a 24-8 game and the home squad was one score away from making Conard uncomfortable.
However, it was three-and-out again and an eight play, 84 drive saw Emmett Coco deliver an insurance tally, a two yard rush for a touchdown, and with 3:06 to go, Central trailed 31-8 and never threatened again.
“I thought we threw the ball better than we had all year which was good to see,” said Papazian. “Our defense has really played well all year [but] you’ve got to give them more than eight points to work with.”
With a victory over Bristol Eastern on Thanksgiving, Central still has a chance to finish at .500 once again.
“We’ll have 12 days to get prepared,” said Papazian of Thanksgiving. “We’re flipping the page right now. We can’t change the nine games before this but we can try to finish up on a positive note on Thanksgiving.”