MIDDLETOWN - Taking a thorough inventory of a teamâ€™s progress after just one game can be misleading.
Rust, first-game jitters and the overall parity that can occur in such a small sample size are a few of the factors that often leave coaches reluctant to look too deep into a season opener.
But the Bristol Eastern football team walked away from its Week 1 loss to Middletown with plenty of optimism in tow. The 35-7 defeat put the scoring differential against the Blue Dragons at 379-54 over the past nine years, but Fridayâ€™s defeat left the Lancers believing their rebuild, and future fortunes against Middletown, are heading in the right direction.
Aside from a disastrous final six minutes of the second quarter, Eastern was highly encouraged by its defensive performance against a Blue Dragons squad that consistently ranks among the top of the conference.
â€śThat scoreboard doesnâ€™t even come close to showing how we performed,â€ť sophomore running back and linebacker Alex Marshall said, looking up at the final scoreboard. â€śThat should read 14-7 right now.â€ť
That is precisely what the scoreboard would have read had it not been for two big passing plays and a breakdown on special teams that led to a blocked punt and a second touchdown in a span of one minute just before the end of the first half. The Lancers allowed just 13 yards on 7 carries on the ground through the first 24 minutes, and while a 55-yard touchdown run in the third quarter provided a blemish, the front seven rebounded the rest of the way and held Middletown scoreless through the fourth quarter.
â€śOverall, we played pretty well on defense, even though the score doesnâ€™t show that,â€ť Eastern head coach Anthony Julius said. â€śFor a while, we were really in control of this game defensively. They had a hard time moving the ball, which we were happy with.â€ť
But Eastern struggled to get things going on the ground as well, and by halftime, injuries had thinned out a struggling backfield, leading Julius to turn to the underclassman Marshall, who got his first varsity carries and responded by churning out 40 yards on the ground in the second half, including the Lancersâ€™ only touchdown of the night. After the game, amongst a crowd of Eastern coaches, one sentence rang out clear among the murmuring voices: â€śAt least we found another running back.â€ť
â€śAlex is a tough kid,â€ť Julius said. â€śHeâ€™s a football guy. We were a little shorthanded with some guys banged up and he showed he could take the rock in varsity games. He was a bright spot for us and itâ€™s something we hope to build on going forward.â€ť
Marshallâ€™s workload on offense was unexpected, but when his number was called, he made the most of it, and may have bought himself more playing time in the future while giving Eastern more depth at running back.
â€śI was just trying to do my best,â€ť Marshall said. â€śI think I was a third-string back before that happened, so Iâ€™m feeling pretty good.â€ť
The Lancers didnâ€™t feel particularly good when glancing at the final scoreboard, but upon further examination, a new option at running back and a deceivingly stingy defense gave Eastern hope for whatâ€™s to come the rest of the season. Last yearâ€™s 0-10 season started with a bad loss, but the team believes this one was different, especially given what Eastern was able to take away from an otherwise lopsided loss.
â€śThey surprised me a bit,â€ť quarterback Bryce Curtin said of the defense and Marshall, who also had a tackle for a loss at linebacker. â€śNow we just have to get the offense to come along and weâ€™ll be ready.â€ť
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org