BRISTOL - Football season is in full swing in Connecticut for the first time in nearly two years and Bristol Eastern started the year 1-0 for the first time in nearly 10 years.
The Lancers began their season at home with a 35-6 victory over E.O. Smith and will take on their first road contest of the year Friday against RHAM, which defeated Farmington 42-21 in its season-opener last week.
Following a successful first game in which it established its blueprint as a hard-nosed, run-first team, Eastern will look to test itself with a more challenging opponent this week and pick up its second win in Tier 3 of the CCC.
“RHAM played really well against Farmington,” Lancers head coach Anthony Julius said. “They did some really nice things up front, they have a couple players that have some really good motors on the offensive and defensive line. They have two running backs that run the ball really hard, they have some receivers that can take the top and they’re quarterback is a really big kid and he can really throw. I was impressed with what I saw on film from him.”
With last Friday being the first varsity game for everyone except five players on Eastern, starting the season with a solid win should help the players get adjusted to the varsity level. Experience led the way for the Lancers in its first game, and will continue to all season, but they are hoping many of the newer players can grow their impact over the course of the year.
“I think there’s a definite understanding now to how varsity football is,” Julius said. “The game was a little bit faster for some and for some, I think they felt right at home. It was definitely an experience for those kids and some of our young guys are going to continue to get better and older guys are going to continue to lead by example.”
The standout of Eastern’s first contest was senior running back Alex Marshall, who rushed for 244 yard and four touchdowns while averaging 8.1 yards per carry. Marshall will be the identity of this team’s offense as long as he has a uniform on, and with his heavy workload comes opportunities to surprise opposing defenses with pass plays.
The Lancers ran one pass play against E.O. Smith and it resulted in a 42-yard touchdown from freshman Kamden Laprise to sophomore Rayshon Andrews. As that group continues to fine tune its execution, downfield passing should become a more useful weapon for Eastern.
“We want to continue to develop the passing game,” Julius said. “We didn’t necessarily need to use it much on Friday, but that’s not going to be the case every single week. So the more we can develop that part of our offense, I think the better we can be.”
This week may not be the time to call more pass plays with a freshman quarterback, however, as Julius said he expects an aggressive approach from RHAM’s defense.
For Marshall, an experienced runner, this could be a defensive look to take advantage of. If the Raptors front line overpursues, he should have easy access to the second level of the defense and consistent gains when he carries the ball.
“They create a lot of havoc [on defense], they send a lot of pressure, which can be an issue for your offense,” Julius said. “For us, it’s going to be about staying true to our assignments, playing at a high level up front and hopefully locking them up so our tailback can do his thing”
With one game down in 2021, the Lancers are already halfway to reaching its win total from two years ago. Looking strong in its first game during a season overwhelmed by unknowns, the team will face its first real test this week.
“Now that the games count and they matter, I think the level of focus is a little bit higher,” Julius said. “The effort and the intensity is about the same, I just think now the kids are playing games that count. If anything, they’re just more excited.”
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or email@example.com.