Friday, September 29, 2017

Bristol Eastern football beats Newington, snaps long losing streak

A long-awaited scene for Bristol Eastern football. Lancer quarterback Justin Marshall takes
a knee in the victory formation to seal a 9-7 win Thursday night at home over Newington. The win
was the first for Eastern since 2015, when it beat Newington. (Copyright, Sports on CT-69)
With time running out in the fourth quarter of Thursday night's game against Newington, Bristol Eastern head coach Anthony Julius made a "V" sign.
That meant the Lancers would go into the "victory formation" and quarterback Justin Marshall would kneel after taking the snap.
It's a normal ending to a close game when the opponent doesn't have any timeouts to stop the clock, but this kneeldown was anything but a usual occurrence. For Eastern, it meant so much more.
After Marshall touched his knee to the Bristol Eastern turf, his teammates erupted in celebration while the final seconds ticked off of the clock.
The Lancers beat the Indians 9-7 in a test of will and toughness. For Eastern, it is the program's first victory since 2015. The last time the Lancers won, they beat the same Indians program in a 40-34 shootout on Oct. 23, 2015, at Bristol Eastern. 
"This is unbelievably big," wide receiver Jaden Laprise said. "We snapped a long losing streak, and it's so surreal right now. I can't even tell you the feeling."
Eastern had lost 17 straight games, but that streak came to an end with an awesome effort across the board from the Lancers and their coaching staff.
Head coach Anthony Julius was asked if the monkey was off of his back, and he deflected the conversation to the players.
"It's not about me, it's about the kids," Julius said. "They're the ones that work hard, they're the ones that get yelled at. They haven't won in a while, and for them to do that, I'm extremely proud of them, and I'm happy for them."
The win was the first for Julius, who endured an 0-10 season last year before an 0-3 start in 2017.
Defense was paramount for Eastern in this victory, but the Lancers don't get to celebrate without the heroics of Marshall and Laprise. Laprise brought the circus to the Mum City in the third quarter when he wrestled a 23-yard touchdown pass away from a Newington defender in spectacular fashion. The two competitors went up for the pass, and Laprise grabbed the ball. He lost control for split second, but then held the ball against his body as he fell to the turf.
John McPhee's extra point missed wide right, but Eastern held a 9-7 lead with 9:12 left in the third quarter. McPhee is forgiven, as his 22-yard field goal on the last play of the first half put the Lancers down 7-3 and gave them momentum. 
"What an unbelievable kick by John," Julius said. "That ball was crushed."
Before the field goal, Marshall and Laprise combined on a 52-yard pass play to get the ball deep into Newington territory.
"What a throw by Justin Marshall, to put the ball on the money, Jaden to catch it in stride and set us up there," Julius said.
Marshall and Laprise hooked up again for the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter, but there was still over 21 minutes to go in the game. Newington had plenty of time, but it didn't have any serious opportunities to steal the game, thanks to the Eastern defense.
"I've got to give it to our defense," Laprise said. "Our defense came up big."
Junior linebacker Trinidad Gonzalez is the leader of the defense, but he got some big help on Thursday. Eastern was able to slow down a Newington offense that was averaging just over 27 points per game.
One big factor for Eastern's defense was senior Ariza Kolloverja, who was all over the place.
"We finally gelled together today, and we used Ariza," Laprise said. "Ariza proved what he can do, on offense and defense."
Julius thought the defensive play was great.
"We made big plays, we had huge fourth down stops, third down stops," Julius said.
"It just shows how tough our defense can be," Laprise said.
On offense, Kolloverja told Julius he wanted more touches, and the head coach told him to "put his money where his mouth is." Kolloverja delivered, and then some, with his ability to fake out defenders and change directions. The running back was a workhorse for the Lancers all night long. 
The I-formation and wildcat offensive schemes were part of a broader thought process from Julius and his staff.
"We talked about developing a mentality and getting back to what made us successful in the past," Julius said. "I'm an offensive line guy, I want to run the ball. We just decided to get behind our guys and ride them out, and I couldn't be more proud of them. They churned it up all night, got positive yards."
Jason Pace returned to the area
with his new football team.
(Copyright, Sports on CT-69)
Assistant coach Tim Barrette mentioned old-school, smash-mouth football after the game was over. That was the style of offense Eastern displayed, and it carried over to the defensive side of the ball as well.
What does that all mean? A long-awaited win for Eastern. The Lancers got the monkey off their backs. Up next is Farmington. What will Eastern do for an encore?
"We focus up and get ready for Farmington, that's what we do," Laprise said.

NOTE: Newington dropped to 2-2 in Jason Pace's first season as head coach. Pace returned to the area with the Indians after having coached at Wolcott High School.

PHOTOS: Click here to see images from the game.

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