WATERBURY - When Kevin Ashworth took the final knee at Municipal Stadium on Sunday, it was hard not to notice the mixture of joy and relief among the St. Paul football team.
It was understandable.
The win - a 32-24 victory over Kennedy - had been a long time coming for the Falcons. In a season that has had its shares of ups and downs and close losses, there was nothing wrong in soaking in the moment, especially on Senior Day and on an afternoon that culminated in their second win in the last six weeks.
But at the same time, the celebration, as important as it was, was short lived. St. Paul knows what’s at stake over the final two weeks of the season, beginning this Friday at Torrington and finishing the night before Thanksgiving at Oxford.
Win out and the Falcons end the year without a losing record. Lose either one and they do.
“W want to finish out the season [strong],” senior fullback Connor Bogdanski said. “And if we want to be 5-5, .500, we need to win these next two games. Right now, we’re 3-5, so if we want to have a respectable record we have to win these next two games because we had the gauntlet the first five games so I think that even put us off on some winnable games like Woodland and Wolcott, but that’s for another day. It’s about finishing strong. Torrington and Oxford are good teams and I don’t think anyone should take them for granted.”
Bogdanski, who rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s win, is right in that fact that St. Paul can’t take either team lightly no matter their record. But it can certainly be done.
The Red Raiders (3-5) have shown the ability to score points, albeit against bad teams. All three of their wins - Derby, Sacred Heart/Kanyor Tech and Wilby - have come against opponents with a combined 5-19 record. In those games, Torrington has averaged 41.3 points per game. In their five losses the Red Raiders have averaged just 5.4 points and have been shut out twice. They’ll come into the game having lost their last two, having been routed by Naugatuck 55-0 and Holy Cross 42-7.
The Wolverines (4-3) have been a little better, having won in each of the last two weeks, when they’ve put up 50 and 49 points respectively. But Oxford will face Woodland (7-1) before getting ready for the Falcons.
So what’s going to allow St. Paul to be in, if not win, its final two games? Simple. The Falcons need to do what they do best.
“We have to have a good run game,” said Ashworth, who also had the game-sealing interception with 1:21 left against Kennedy. “Last year and this year, in our games we do the best when we get 300, 400 rushing yards. If we can get a body on a body with blocking, our running backs know how to run hard and that’s probably the biggest things with these last two games. We have to get a body on a body and hopefully we can get these last two and finish .500.”
Against the Eagles (3-5), St. Paul ran for 304 yards as a team with Ashworth also hitting the century mark, having rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries.
But the Falcons are also going to have to do a better job of playing disciplined, something they didn’t do a good job of on Sunday. Over the final 24 minutes of play against the Eagles, St. Paul was flagged seven times, including two personal fouls penalties, for 65 yards, which is tough for an offense predicated on the run to make up.
The Falcons might have gotten away with those kinds of things against Kennedy, but are unlikely to so again these last two weeks.
“Those are things that you can control from your sideline,” head coach Jude Kelly said. “There are lots of things on the other sideline that you can’t control. You have to control how you act on the field and how you execute and the momentum things that you can take care of.
“[Going forward] we have to look at, from an offensive standpoint, to be more disciplined and not get ourselves backed up and stay on track and defensively, we have to work harder on staying in our technique and getting to the ball because we tackled a lot better against other opponents than we did [Sunday].”
The players are certainly looking at it that way.
“I don’t think [these games are] going to be anything you’re definitely going to be given going into it,” Bogdanski said. “So you have to practice all week long like you’re going to beat them. I think that’s the key, is going 100 percent out in practice.”
St. Paul will find out, one way or another
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org