BRISTOL - Four games into his run as the head coach of the St. Paul football team and Joe Cianciolo has plenty to be pleased with from his team.
The Falcons enter their Friday-night matchup against Wolcott with a 2-2 record and the rejuvenation of a bye week hoping to have more wins than losses for the first time this season. Instead of a bye week to energize them for Friday, the Eagles (2-3) are coming off a 38-6 win over Derby, which St. Paul beat 30-14 Sept. 25.
Kickoff for this game will be at 7 p.m. at St. Paul’s McPhee Field in Bristol.
The Falcons bested Wilby 32-30 in their last game and scored late to take their final lead of the night before making a goal-line stand to secure the win. Cianciolo said he was impressed with his players’ resilience in that moment, but their defense, specifically against the run, needs to be better to avoid being in those situations.
“[Wilby] ran the ball very well against us,” Cianciolo said. “They had two physical backs and their quarterback would run the ball to the outside with good speed. For them to galvanize, to come together and to truly play 48 minutes of football and get that goal-line stand, not only does it show us coaches they can do it, but it shows them that they can do it.”
Wilby ran for 334 yards against St. Paul, and had two 100-yard rushers while averaging 9.3 yards per carry as a team. The Falcons are unlikely to come out with a win against Wolcott if they play similarly to two weeks ago. Cianciolo expects another to face a run-heavy attack Friday night and knows his team needs to execute better when pursuing the ball carrier.
“I’ve never had to question any of our team’s effort, it’s not a lack of effort, but it is imperative that we improve our technique,” Cianciolo said. “Whether it’s maintaining our gaps, taking on blocks, getting off blocks and then finishing off and making tackles, those are a few things we’ve been hammering home pretty hard during the bye week.”
Wolcott’s five games this season are all big wins or big losses. It held Watertown and Derby to fewer than 10 points in their wins, while allowing at least 32 points and scoring less than 20 in its three losses. St. Paul has no idea which version of Wolcott it will bring out in this game, but executing will be imperative to ensure the Falcons have a chance at competing with a deeper team.
“They’re definitely going to try to establish the run,” Cianciolo said. “We understand the challenge that brings with their offensive line, they fire out hard, they play to the end of the whistle. They move very well, they run a lot of trap plays, which they’re very good at and their quarterback can run the ball well. They’re going to look to fall forward, they’re athletic, so we’re going to have to prepare for 48 minutes of physical football.”
Success on the ground will also be the goal for St. Paul’s offense as it looks to make holes for running backs Isaiah Conner and Nick Dube. The two led the Falcons to their highest scoring total of the season against Wilby and while they don’t need that level of success again, they need to make Wolcott respect the threat of their rushing attack.
“We’ve established a good running game with our two backs Isaiah [Conner] and Nick [Dube],” Cianciolo said. “These guys have been working their butts off, as well as the offensive line, and keep getting better and better. We’re just going to focus on us, control what we can control and let the cards play as they may. We know that Wolcott is a very physical and good team that plays extremely hard and we’re ready for that challenge.”
Winning games often displays what teams do well and how it looks at their best, but if there is one part of St. Paul’s last win Cianciolo wants to stay with his players, it is that they never backed down. Every time one team scored, the other had an answer, which builds the mental fortitude to stay focused late in tightly-contested games.
“Going back to the Wilby game, being able to overcome adversity, it was a back and forth game,” Cianciolo said. “Nobody was up by more than eight points the entire game and we drove the field to get the go-ahead score. [For] teams not mentally strong and tough enough, that may have been a daunting task. We had some players step up and make big plays that had not done that before, which was great to see and something we can build off of.”
The Falcons are building something new under Cianciolo and they know the success will not be instant. With two wins in the early part of their season, the team is feeling good about itself while showing how much better it can be.
“We’re getting better each and every week, which is the ultimate goal for having such a young group,” Cianciolo said. “Even in the first four games we’ve played we can see how far we’ve come. We just need to keep realizing that we have a long way to go and that the journey is the fun part. Coming out of the bye week, we’re feeling pretty good. We’re getting better each and every week and we’re ready for the challenge at hand.”
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or email@example.com.