BRISTOL - With a 2-0 record for the first time since 2013, the energy feels different around the Bristol Eastern football team.
Coming off a hard-fought 13-6 win over RHAM last week, Eastern is looking to play a cleaner game this Friday night at home against Wilbur Cross (1-1). Flexing the strength of their defense, particularly when RHAM had the goal line within reach, the Lancers are carrying an unfamiliar feeling after two consecutive wins.
“There’s definitely a sense of confidence that the kids have, for sure, and that’s a good thing,” head coach Anthony Julius said. “They’ve played well and we’ve won two games, we should have some confidence. However, the kids are really focused on trying to make sure that they stay hungry. They want more, and that’s the good thing. They’re not satisfied with just two, they want this good feeling to continue.”
Eastern’s defense allowed one touchdown to each of its opponents so far and want to see that continue against the Governors. The primary focus of improvement this week is protecting the ball on offense. Turnovers dampered the Lancers’ performances in both of its first two games and while it did not have much impact against E.O. Smith, a late fumble gave RHAM one final chance at comeback.
“The defense has been great through two games,” Julius said. “We definitely played the bend but don’t break philosophy last week, it’s definitely something for us to build off of and look to continue to improve. Offensively, it’s going to be taking care of the football and limiting our mistakes. We need to execute a little bit better on offense, we didn’t have the same level of offensive execution we did in the first week so that’s been a really big point of emphasis this week for us.”
Senior running back Alex Marshall followed his 244-yard opening week with 100 yards against RHAM as he was contained for much of the contest. Julius hopes to see greater productivity out of Marshall this week and hopes the passing game continues to develop in a way that defenses have to respect, leaving more room in the middle of the field for Marshall.
Wilbur Cross began its season with a 48-12 win over Bassick before losing 56-12 to Xavier the following week. The Lancers played their first scrimmage of the preseason against Xavier, but Julius does not see much to gather from that because of how early both teams were in returning to football form.
Similarly to Eastern, the Governors prioritize running the ball on offense and are led by junior quarterback Jamal Lee who has 191 rushing yards and four touchdowns through two games. As a whole the team is averaging 228 yards per game and scored all of its touchdowns on the ground.
“They have some tremendous size up front,” Julius said. “We’re going to have to do a really good job of holding the plan of attack on defense and getting off of blocks to make our plays like we’re capable of doing. Their quarterback is a great athlete, he runs the ball really well so we’re going to have to try to neutralize him and keep him at bay.”
Wilbur Cross will be making the drive from New Haven to Bristol for this 7 p.m. matchup and is not a team generally found on the Lancers’ schedule. This SCC team struggled during its 2019 season, posting a 2-8 record and getting shutout in six of its losses.
“Coach Acquavita does a very good job, he’s been a very successful coach for a long time,” Julius said. “They’re very big, they’re physical and they have some really dynamic athletes in the backfield. We’re going to have to play a really clean game for us to come out on the right side of things on Friday night. [We are] looking forward to the challenge that they present. It’s a new league, a league that we’re not familiar with, our kids are excited for the opportunity.”
Winning last week was an important learning experience for Eastern as it enters the heart of its season. Surviving a challenging road game with sturdy red zone defense will give the team confidence going forward.
“We learned [about] our competitiveness and our overall toughness,” Julius said. “We were in some difficult positions throughout the game and our kids were able to rise to the occasion. Our Red Zone defense was excellent, holding RHAM out of the end zone multiple times.”
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or email@example.com.