By MATT HORNICK
BRISTOL - Senior running back Alex Marshall made it remarkably clear to opposing teams that beating Bristol Eastern will require slowing him down for four quarters.
Marshall was, and will continue to be, the Lancers focal point offensively this season after leading the way for 35-6 victory over E.O. Smith to start the 2021 football season Friday night. Marshall carried the ball on 30 of Eastern’s 45 offensive plays and amassed 244 and four touchdowns.
Including shovel passes, which behave more similarly to running plays, the Lancers called four pass plays in the contest as they look to use a Marshall-led rushing attack to control the pace of their games.
“It’s a big responsibility, but I’ve been trained to do it,” Marshall said. “I’ve been looking forward to it for two years now to try and get to do this. I’m looking for a big season overall.”
Marshall was the lead running back for Eastern as a sophomore two years ago at the head of a run-first offense, but he will likely take on a greater workload this year as his strength and tenacity as a runner make him difficult to slow down. Difficult to tackle, he has the ability to wear down defenses because of his physical running style and the scarcity with which he loses yards. He gained positive yards 28 of his 30 rushes, losing two yards one play and getting caught at the line of scrimmage on the other.
“He doesn’t go backwards, and you saw it on defense too,” head coach Anthony Julius said. “He played like the beast he is [Friday night], so we’re fortunate to have him on our side. I think he put the rest of the schedule on notice that he’s for real. We expect those types of performances from Alex.”
Being able to rely on a Marshall for 48 minutes is not just about effectively moving the ball and scoring. Employing an efficient run-based offense gives the Lancers complete control of the clock and the pace of the game.
Eastern displayed this clock management in the fourth quarter of Friday night’s game. Leading E.O. Smith 28-6 with nine and a half minutes remaining, the Lancers called exclusively running plays on a 13-play, 80-yard drive that ended with 2:07 left on the clock after a one-yard touchdown run from Marshall, his fourth score of the day.
Marshall took 11 of the carries on the drive and gained 57 yards en route to the end zone to close out the game and give Eastern its first 1-0 record since 2013.
“It’s [about] ball control, I think we controlled the possession,” Julius said. “In the fourth quarter, we got in a heavier set and we were able to take the clock down and punch one in there. We played sound defense [Friday night] and we ran the ball well and that’s really what we want to do. The one pass play we threw we hit on a big play, as our offense continues to develop we’re going to get more of those shot-play opportunities.”
Eastern’s only touchdown not scored by Marshall came on a 42-yard pass from freshman quarterback Kamden Laprise to sophomore receiver Rayshon Andrews. Having so much youth in the passing attack is part of why the Lancers will be so reliant on running the ball. But as those player gain more experience and opposing defenses continue to expect a heavy dose of Marshall, the passing opportunities will expand and Eastern’s offense could become more dangerous.
The Lancers will likely face a bigger challenge in their next matchup when they face RHAM for their first road game of the year. The Raptors also opened their season with a win, defeating Farmington 42-21, but Marshall is ready to get back to work because he believes his team is only getting better.
“We are not perfect yet, there’s still plenty of things to fix,” Marshall said. “The more games we get, the more experience we get, the better we’re going to play and we’re going to look even better.”
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org.