BRISTOL - Outside of Watertown, the St. Paul football team has played one of the toughest schedules a team can.
Seymour, Naugatuck, Ansonia and Woodland, the four teams the Falcons have lost to, have combined for a 19-1 record this season.
Meanwhile, St. Paul enters the bye week with a 1-4 record, but its most recent game against Woodland suggests the Falcons are close to getting to where they want to be.
“All four of our games were great learning experiences for us and I think we’ve gotten better every game,” Kelly said. “Now we’re five games in and we’ve been improving. We just have to figure out how to win, that’s the next step.”
Against the Hawks, a team that came into the game with a pair of shutouts and a stout defensive unit, it was the Falcons’ defense and special teams that stood out.
On Woodland’s second drive of the game, it handed the ball to star running back Edit Krivca on a fourth down and 4 and St. Paul’s Christian Decker blew up the play in the backfield to give the Falcons the ball back.
Then, after a Connor Bogdanski touchdown run, John Ivers forced a fumble on the kickoff to get St. Paul the ball back.
It was another big play that set the offense up and resulted in a score.
The St. Paul defense wasn’t done, though.
Woodland had another opportunity in the first half on a fourth and 2 and once again the St. Paul run defense shut it down, as Krivca only got 1 yard and the Falcons got the ball back.
With the defense and special teams making good plays, St. Paul scored on three of its four possessions offensively in the first half.
That half showed the potential the Falcons have this season.
“That was a strong half for us,” St. Paul head coach Jude Kelly said. “But I’m sure that Woodland was coming in here 4-0 and I think that they may have taken us a little bit lightly. I’m sure the coaches got after them at halftime and they came out and had a fire in their belly and came after us, which we figured they would.”
Woodland did just that and came out in the second half to score on all three of its second half possessions; and the big plays that weren’t allowed in the first half by the Falcons started to fade, as the Hawks had three plays going over 25 yards in the first drive and then methodically drove the ball downfield in the next two as the St. Paul defense slowed down.
The end result against the Hawks wasn’t what the Falcons had wanted, but it was something else that St. Paul is still looking for.
“We didn’t respond as well as we needed to when they started coming after us in the second half,” Kelly said. “That’s something we still have to learn.”
With a bye this week, the Falcons will finish off their schedule against teams with a combined record of 10-15.
Whether those four tough tests to begin the year helped the Falcons will be something to monitor, but in the final game before the bye week, St. Paul seemed to be a different team, one that is ready to start winning.