By GERRY deSIMAS, JR.
Connecticut Sports Online
BRISTOL, Sept. 14, 2002 -- Sometimes, the best lessons in football are learned under duress with sweat getting into your eyes and drenching your shirt. When you are all alone on the gridiron with the cheers of the crowd and the instructions from your coach are a distant roar in your ear as you struggle with your taller, strong opponent.
The Avon High football team began accumulating some first-hand lessons Saturday night in its season-opening contest with St. Paul/Goodwin Tech. The Falcons dropped a 19-6 decision to St. Paul but had several bright moments.
After cutting the lead to seven points with its first touchdown of the season late in the fourth quarter, Avon had St. Paul facing a third-and-13 situation on the St. Paul 26-yard line. But as they did most of the evening, St. Paul converted on third down with a 17-yard pass from QB Matt Lamont.
St. Paul iced the contest with a 42-yard touchdown run the longest play of the contest four plays later.
"I hope now they are hungry to win and know that they can put themselves in the position to win by how well they work and prepare for games," Avon coach Tim Feshler said.
Avon did some things well Saturday night at Muzzy Field. Senior Joe Friedhoff intercepted a pass while teammate Jared McNeill recovered a fumbled punt on the St. Paul 20-yard line in the first quarter. Junior QB Tony Casorio came off the bench to complete 15-of-22 passes for 110 yards.
But the Falcons also made some silly mistakes and gave up some big third down plays to St. Paul. A pass interference call against Avon on third down kept a St. Paul drive alive in the second quarter. Two plays later, St. Paul QB Matt Dumont completed a 41-yard touchdown pass to big tight end Jim Shanley for a 13-0 lead.
"Third down is the most important down in the game," Friedhoff said. "If you win on third down, you get (your defense) off the field but we weren't able to do that today."
"I was happy with our kid's efforts," said Feshler, beginning his fifth season at the helm of the Falcons. "I'm proud of our effort. We ran some new things offensively. The kids could've jumped off the wagon a long time ago but they haven't."
It's a young Avon team this year with only seven seniors. Only one starter returns from last year's offensive line and the Falcons have a pair of new quarterbacks Casorio and Ben Lerer. "I told them I will stay with whomever has the better rhythm," Feshler said.
St. Paul had the early rhythm marching down the field in 11 plays on its first possession to take a 7-0 lead. Avon's first drive was kept alive when St. Paul fumbled away the punt and McNeill recovered on the St. Paul 20-yard line.
Lerer's eight-yard completion to A.J. Brown moved the ball to the St. Paul 12 and two plays later, Avon had first-and-goal on the five-yard line.
But Shanley tackled Lerer behind the line of scrimmage as he pitched the ball away and Avon recovered the ball on its own 22-yard line. A 38-yard field goal attempt by Brown was short.
Early in the second quarter, St. Paul had third and 15 on its own 45-yard line. LaMont (4-of-10, 1 interception, 107 yards) overthrew his receiver but St. Paul got another chance when Avon was flagged for pass interference. Two plays later, Shanley gave St. Paul a 13-0 lead after his 41-yard TD reception.
Avon had minus eight yards rushing in the first half but came out with some vigor in the second half and its new West Coast offense, using the pass to control the ball.
Casario completed 9-of-14 passes in the second half. Avon drove to the St. Paul 18-yard line on its second drive of the half before it stalled. A Friedhoff sack for nine yards stopped St. Paul and gave Avon good field position on the St. Paul 44-yard line as the fourth quarter began.
Junior Tom Canty's halfback option pass of 33 yards to Max Martinez put Avon on the St. Paul 11-yard line. On fourth down and five, Casario completed a 10-yard pass to Martinez, who didn't stop churning and running until he scored with 9:27 left in the game, cutting the lead to 13-6.
However, St. Paul converted two crucial third down plays on its next drive including a 17-yard pass on third and 13 as St. Paul responded with a eight-play, 71-yard touchdown drive for a commanding 19-6 lead.
NOTES: St. Paul/Goodwin Tech took a 9-8 lead in the overall series between the two schools and beat Avon for only the second time in the last eight meetings. ... Avon had won four straight over St. Paul. Avon slips to 23-20 on opening day. ... Lerer had a 15-yard interception return. ... St. Paul is in its fourth year as a cooperative team with New Britain's Goodwin Tech.