BRISTOL - Coming into the 2017 football season, Bristol Eastern was expecting junior quarterback Justin Marshall to take a big step forward in his second season as starter.
Now, with two games left on the Lancers’ schedule, the development of Marshall has been on display and he is growing into the quarterback that head coach Anthony Julius was expecting him to be both in terms of production and leadership on the field.
It was on display Friday against Wethersfield.
“He did a good job,” said Bristol Eastern head coach Anthony Julius following the Lancers’ 14-13 loss. "At times they were sending more guys in that we had to block and he hung in there and took some shots and scrambled when he needed to."
While the recent loss to the Wethersfield dropped Bristol Eastern to 2-6 on the season, the young Lancers group has shown improvement over the course of the season on the offensive side of the ball and much of that has to do with Marshall.
After averaging just six points a game over the first four weeks, Bristol Eastern has averaged 21 points per game over the last four contests.
A large part of that success can be pointed to the ground game and senior running back Ariza Kolloverja. But Marshall’s development as the team’s signal caller has contributed as well.
The junior has averaged over 200 yards passing during his past three games and the 138 passing yards against Wethersfield could have been over 200 yards as the Lancers receivers had a tough time dropping some catches that would have been game-changing. One, a Jaden Laprise drop as he beat the defense and was a sure touchdown had he caught the pass and the other, on the final drive of the game by Elijah Gagliardo, who had the ball ripped out of his hands by cornerback David Colon.
Another impressive part of Marshall’s game has been on short yardage plays as Marshall has shown the ability to convert on quarterback sneaks, something that has become a go-to call for the Lancers in those situations.
While his ability to throw the football has seen improvement, Marshall has also started to run more as he begins to read the field better and makes the decision to run the ball in situations that it makes sense to do so with no receivers open downfield.
There is still a lot of room to grow for Marshall, specifically his willingness to force the football to Laprise when he is not open.
That has been a constant for Marshall this season rather than spreading the ball around to different receivers or running when Laprise is seeing double coverage and no other receivers are open.
In recent games he has started to check the ball down to his running back. In the loss against the Eagles, Kolloverja had six catches for 50 yards, primarily coming out of the backfield.
His confidence in the pocket has grown as well and on the final drive against Wethersfield, Marshall and the offense had 86 yards to go with 2:14 left in the game.
Marshall went 4-for-9 with 49 yards passing on that drive before throwing the interception that was taken away from Gagliardo by Colon. On that drive, Marshall was facing pressure and still delivered throws on target.
“He’s always confident in situations like that,” senior defensive end/tight end Rajon Collins said. “He’s a low energy guy but he knows what he can do out there.”
The biggest thing for the success of the team is that Marshall is becoming the leader of Bristol Eastern. Marshall never singles out who makes the mistakes, it’s always about the team as a whole.
“We just broke down at the end,” Marshall said following the loss to the Eagles. “We didn’t make the plays we needed to make. We dominated the game but just couldn’t come out on top.”
With Marshall at the helm, the future is bright for the Lancers and close games such as the one Friday against the Eagles may start to turn into wins rather than losses as Marshall continues to grow both as quarterback and leader of the Lancers.
Dan Orencole can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @OrencoleDan