BRISTOL - With just seven seniors on its roster and one of them - Noah Mendoza - injured, the St. Paul football program closed out its season with 44-22 win over Oxford Wednesday night, resulting in a 7-3 record for the Falcons.
“Coming out with a win and sending out our seniors with a win was really big,” St. Paul senior tailback Damien Rabis said. “It was the last time for us playing on this field and I’m just so happy I can’t explain it right now.”
While the season finished strong, it was a bittersweet finish to what looked to be an even more promising year.
At 5-0, St. Paul was in position for a playoff run but that was halted with three straight losses coming out of the bye week to drop to 5-3. But two games remained and although the Falcons weren’t playing for the playoffs anymore, they were playing for a winning season.
St. Paul did that and finished the season strong with two wins to close out the year over Wilby and the Wolverines. And the Falcons did it in their typical fashion, using the wishbone offense to run all over opposing defenses.
Any team could have given up after falling out of playoff contention but the Falcons group didn’t, a testament to their resiliency.
“This team is special,” senior lineman Dominic Aiello said. “We started out hot and hit a couple hiccups but the scoreboard shows that we bounce back and we finished strong.”
In the first half of Wednesday’s game against Oxford, St. Paul rushed for 279 yards and following that up with another 154 rushing yards in the second half.
And it was a pair of juniors and a pair of seniors that did all of the scoring for St. Paul.
Junior quarterback Kevin Ashworth began the evening with a big 86-yard touchdown run on the third play of the game. Another junior, fullback Connor Bogdanski, was the entire offense of the second drive with a 56-yard run followed up with a 27-yard touchdown run.
The two juniors got St. Paul out to a 14-0 lead.
Senior tailback Damien Rabis wanted to get in on the first half scoring action and the Falcons took the ball over at their own 37-yard line with little time remaining on the clock.
Rabis didn’t waste any time with a 63-yard touchdown run.
In the second half, senior running back Chris Dionne had a pair of short touchdown runs and Rabis had his second of the game as the two seniors made sure to finish the season strong.
“These seniors were my brothers,” Ashworth said. “Having this be our last game with the seniors is honestly kind of heartbreaking because of all the hard work and dedication that we’ve all put in together with them for three years now. You don’t get another game with them but the memories we made with them on and off the field and everything they contributed to this program was unbelievable.”
While the junior class was on display to start the game, the future wasn’t on the mind of head coach Jude Kelly. It was all about the seniors going out with the win.
“It’s this season still,” Kelly said. “Next week I’ll meet with each player on the team individually and talk about their goals and expectations for next year and then we’ll start getting ourselves together for next year. Right now, we’re going to enjoy this win and enjoy Thanksgiving and be happy for the seniors.”
Although, the junior class is 17 players strong and this season’s group of seniors group has set the foundation for what could be another successful run next year.
“It means a lot,” Dionne said. “It means that other groups will look back to us and get to our level that we played. It’s an inspiration to the younger kids as well that wanted to see what we did this year.”
Dan Orencole can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @OrencoleDan