By MICHAEL LETENDRE
OXFORD – When you have the experience on your side of the football, especially on the road in a big pre-Thanksgiving Day challenge, then your squad has one heck of a chance of pulling out a huge win.
And that’s exactly what the St. Paul football did at Oxford on Tuesday, Nov. 25 as the Falcons smashed the Wolverines by a 35-13 final in a Naugatuck Valley League showdown.
The win ended St. Paul’s season at 6-5 with the Falcons finishing over .500 for the second consecutive season.
Leading by just eight points at the half, St. Paul rode up two straight scores to go ahead in the contest by three scores and put some distance between themselves and Oxford (2-9).
And in the end, it was a very satisfying victory for a special group of seniors.
“That was a very nice win,” said St. Paul coach Jude Kelly. “I have a great, great group of seniors.”
The offense was solid by the defense was even more on top of their game.
Seniors Jose Silva and Kyle MacLean made big tackles for losses while fellow senior Doug Nessing also chipped in defensively on the line.
Plus, the Falcons picked off five of Oxford’s six passes in the contest to snuff out the offense by the home squad.
Again, it was the senior unit that made it all happen.
Brendan Carroll and Daija Fitzpatrick each snatched two interceptions for St. Paul while Dejuan Rodriguez also made a pick off during the defensive ambush.
And besides Quarterback Owen Diaz (12 rushes, 101 yards), the home team was only able to tally 166 yards on the ground – none from the air – as St. Paul shut down Oxford’s offense.
“We played good defense tonight,” Kelly said. “We’ve done a much better job than in the past few years of stopping the run. If you can run the ball on offense and stop the ball on defense, then you are always going to be a better football team. I think we’ve done that. A big part of our secondary getting those interceptions was our ability to stop the run.”
Offensively, those seniors were also sharp, crisp and made all the right moves to keep the numbers on the scoreboard moving in a positive direction for the Falcons.
For the ninth time this year, senior running back Eli Parks zipped up over 100 yards in a game and against Oxford, the squad had few answers in stopping the speedster.
Parks forcefully pounded the Wolverines’ defense with 27 carries for 213 yards and four touchdowns as the back finished his scholastic season with 2,313 yards in 2014, the best mark in the city since Bristol Central’s Timmy Washington was ruling the roost right about at the turn of the century.
Parks scored on runs of 1, 15, 23 and 35 yards in another brilliant performance.
And there was also the play of quarterback Pat Etter.
The unsung hero of the Falcons completed 14 of 19 passes for 175 yards, throwing a 13-yard touchdown pass to Carroll in the first period while throwing just one interception to end his career.
Ben Pryor (5 catches, 82 yards), Fitzpatrick (5-63), and Carroll (3-30) all made connections with Etter to lead the charge.
For Oxford, Gunnar Fay scored on a 13 yard run and Noah Lisewski returned a strip and fumble 45 yards for a score for the Wolverines in the closing seconds of the third period.
St. Paul kicker Joe Klimczak went 5-of-5 on extra-point kicks while Mark Vazquez and Dan Cinnante also saw action in the showdown.
And even with the playoffs out of sight for the Falcons, the game had a playoff like atmosphere – at least for the Falcons – and the visiting squad jumped on the scoreboard quickly.
After a pickoff was made by Carroll with just 47 seconds gone in the game, St. Paul quickly got on the scoreboard.
The Falcons went 67 yards on six plays – capped by a 14 yard TD reception from Carroll – as Etter’s scoring pass made it a 7-0 contest with 8:00 left to play in the first period.
But Oxford answered right back and the game was quickly afoot.
The Wolverines needed just three plays to punch in a score.
Owen Diaz made a huge 47 yard jaunt and one play later, Gunner Fay scrambled 13 yards into the goal as St. Paul’s lead was trimmed to 7-6.
Later in the frame, Carroll nabbed another Diaz pass midway through the first but the Falcons didn’t add to their lead as the visitors held on to the one-point edge after one completed stanza.
Late in the second tilt, St. Paul notched another score to tally an eight-point push.
Off a punt by Oxford, Parks made three quick runs, Carroll scooped in an Etter pass and firmly planted on the Wolverines’ 35 yard line, the Falcons were looking to score.
Parks took the ball, MacLean made a quick block to open some daylight for the rusher and the back slipped through – sprinting 35 yards into the goal – as St. Paul zipped up a 14-6 push with 2:27 left to go in the second period.
The game remained a one-possession tilt into intermission before Parks got uncorked for two tremendous third period touchdowns.
It took St. Paul just 51 seconds to score out of the halftime break with Parks making a 23 yard TD rush up the middle as the Falcons made it a 21-6 game.
And off an Oxford fumble – and dueling interceptions by the squads – Parks made a 15 yard dash for six points, which propelled the visitors to a 28-6 lead with 3:07 remaining in the third frame.
A fumble off a punt gave the ball back to St. Paul late in the third but a strip of Fitzpatrick led to a 45 yard touchdown sprint by Lisewski, with Oxford cutting the score to 28-12 with 30.2 second left to go in the quarter.
But to open the final period of play, Parks was up to his old tricks once again for the last time as a member of the St. Paul program.
The senior made a one yard jaunt into the goal, giving the Falcons an imposing 35-12 push with 9:15 left to go in the contest.
Late in the game, Fitzpatrick made his second pickoff of the game while senior Aaron Kowalski (9 carries, 29 yards) rushed for a couple late first downs to help the Falcons secure the victory.
In the end, St. Paul had victory number six in hand, a winning record on the campaign, and a strong unit of 13 seniors were winners on their way out.
“Our kids were really prepared to play their hearts out tonight,” Kelly said. “The fact that it was the last game for 13 seniors that have meant so much to the program, I think that everyone wanted to rally around them and make sure that they had a great night tonight.”
Comments? Email mletendre@BristolObserver.com.
By MICHAEL LETENDRE