BRISTOL - Nearly two months have passed since the St. Paul football team picked up its last win and Wednesday is the team’s final chance of 2021 to win again.
The Falcons will take a drive to Oxford (3-6) on the day before Thanksgiving in pursuit of their third win of the year and to close out their season on a high note. St. Paul is yet to score more than 16 points during its five-game losing streak while allowing opponents to score at least 34 points in each of its last four games.
Moving the ball upfield has been a struggle for the Falcons, but turnovers, penalties and other discipline-based mistakes are their main source of problems lately. Many of their most successful drives end abruptly after one miscue gives the ball away or stalls momentum and pushes them further from the line to gain.
“We’ve actually done a lot better than the box score would indicate,” head coach Joe Cianciolo said. “We turn the ball over occasionally and that’s kind of what kills us.”
Oxford brings a speed-based attack on both sides of the ball that Cianciolo and his staff are preparing for this week. They will look to move the ball quickly to avoid giving Oxford’s defense time to make plays. St. Paul is expecting pressure in a variety of forms, which puts additional pressure on everyone to read the defense and make smart decisions.
“They play a very aggressive-style defense with their speed, so communication, seeing blitzes and pickups is going to be crucial,” Cianciolo siad. “Whether running the ball or passing the ball, [we have to] pick up the different guys that could be coming. I think we’re going to try and attack right at them and try to slow down their aggressiveness or wear down their speed.”
Oxford started the season with five losses in a row, but then entered the win column with a forfeit over Derby, which started a 3-1 run after the 0-5 start. Sophomore quarterback Matthew McGuire is the focal point of their offense as the Wolverines look to take advantage of his abilities as a runner in the open field. Cianciolo said one of the keys to playing will in this game is making McGuire more of a passer than a runner.
“[We have to] key in on their quarterback, keeping him inside the pocket, making him beat us with his arms versus his legs,” Cianciolo said. “He’s a very good athlete, they find any way they can to get the ball in his hands.”
Finishing the season with a win would be a positive finish to a challenging first season as head coach for Cianciolo. He was brought in on short notice to take over a young and inexperienced team after a year with no high school football, so having a full offseason and a large group of returners should help him enter next season feeling stronger.
For everyone on the team, especially the seniors playing their last game, closing the year with a win would be a good feeling as the holiday season commences.
“No matter how many seniors you graduate, you appreciate the time and sticking with the program,” Cianciolo said. “Think of all the things they’ve gone through, not having a junior season, not knowing what senior year was going to look like.”
Matt Hornick can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org.