It’s week six and Daniel Hand has found themselves in the unique position as King of the Hill; everybody's’ number one team. This includes all the Connecticut newspaper polls and the MaxPreps computer rankings. In fact, Hand has now made an appearance in the MaxPreps Northeast Region Top Ten as the number ten team. That’s huge. They are the only New England team listed in an area that covers from Maine to Maryland.
Now they have to fight against a letdown after last week and defend their ranking against a team that should be their biggest threat for remainder of the regular season.
West Haven comes to the Surf Club with a 5-0 record. They have one of the area’s most talented running backs in Ervin Phillips. He scored four times in last week’s game against Amity; 2 rushing, 1 receiving, 1 on special teams. Their quarterback, Javon Taylor, transferred from Wilbur Cross this year and has made himself a nice addition to an already talented team.
West Haven just missed the playoffs last year finishing with a 7-3 record. They may already be in playoff mode as they have Hand, Xavier and Fairfield Prep left to play. They will likely have to win at least one of these three games to have a shot at a playoff berth.
Hand has won four of the last five meetings of these two Division I East foes. In the last couple of years Coach Ed McCarthy has attributed his teams shortcomings to having to play too many underclassmen. Now those players are experienced and looking stick around at the end of the year.
Hand should still be okay, provided that they can still fit their heads inside their helmets and they don’t give West Haven any help.
The weather report for game time looks terrible. 80% chance for rain/thunderstorms. Check back on Patch for updates. We’ll post here as soon as we hear about any change in schedule.
The Game of the Century
Last week’s game had no more significance than any other regular season game, but it sure felt like a State Championship. Those who made the trip to Palmer Field (horrible venue for such an elite team) were rewarded with a game for the ages.
Hand sputtered a bit in the first half. Xavier showed off some of great offensive talent and their defense played very fast. Hand resorted to some trickery to stay close. A double pass play. Brendan Bilcheck lateraled to Tom Schultz who then passed Kyle Anderson downfield for a first and goal from the one. Matt Walsh then dove in and drove the pile into the end zone for a score to regain the lead 14-12.
Xavier then drove for one more score before the break and took a 20-14 lead into halftime.
One of the most important coaching decisions of the night occurred at the coin toss. Hand won the toss and deferred their choice until the second half. They then opted to receive the ball to open the third quarter. What happened next will go down in Hand Tiger lore as... “The Drive!”
It didn’t start so well. Caleb Ewald returned the second half kickoff to the Hand 25 yard line. But no, Hand didn’t start there, an official dropped a flag on the field; the first of many. Hand was backed up to their own 10. There would be three more penalties on the next six plays. It would take Hand 8 plays to get back to their own 25. Once they got there though, things began to click. Hand would control the ball for 6 minutes and 38 seconds, running 23 plays. They would convert on five third downs and one crazy fourth down. On fourth and eight from the Xavier 18 yard line, quarterback Brendan Bilcheck’s pass was tipped behind the line and fell into the arms of right tackle, Cam Gravina. Gravina took off towards the end zone and was stopped at the four. On first and goal from there, Matt Walsh took the hand-off for his third touchdown of the night on his third carry. (See the attached pdf for a detailed description of the The Drive.”)
“The Drive” set the tone for the rest of the night. In the fourth quarter Matt Walsh carried the ball for the sixth time and it was the only time he was tackled by Xavier. His previous five carries all resulted in touchdowns. The Hand defense completely shut down the Xavier offense holding them to 39 yards total, while the Hand offense ran 54 plays in the second half for 309 yards. Hand completely dominated the second half outscoring Xavier 26-0.
In addition to his five touchdowns, Matt Walsh also had the quote of the night. Speaking about Palmer Field he said,
Patch Players of the Week
Offense: Prior to the game, if you were told to pick one these quarterbacks for your fantasy team the easy choice would be the 6-4, rocket armed, BC bound Tim Boyle. But it was Brendan Bilcheck who was the effective quarterback on the night. He kept his poise and kept the chains moving. Some of his passes were not pretty, but they got the job done. Another unsung hero of the night was running back Ian O’Toole. He did not score, but time and time again he dove into the line and was hit immediately. He then twisted, turned and contorted himself through the smallest of openings and turned what appeared to be nothing into two, three and four yard gains. It was a gutsy performance. But how could I not pick MATT WALSH as the Player of the Week? Five touchdowns in five carries, against Xavier? That kind of performance puts him in the same league with legendary Tigers like Ken Sweitzer and Jim Bell. That’ll get him five minutes in the next movie: “ Tiger Pride II: the Sequel.”
Defense: Another hard pick. Ian Dieli could have wrapped it up with his sack of Boyle in the Xavier end zone, but as Boyle tried to squirm free, Ian caught him by the facemask and that negated the apparent safety. Alex Tuccero’s interception of Boyle was great but his hard-nosed 42 yard return of it was spectacular. But the defensive play of the night goes to PETER GERSON with his statistical trifecta; a sack of Boyle, forcing a fumble and recovery of that fumble in one fell swoop.
Around the SCC
Hillhouse handed North Haven their second loss of the year 27-14. That keeps Hillhouse in the playoff hunt and will make it very difficult for North Haven who have Hand coming up in another week.
Fairfield Prep beat Cheshire 39-6 and are starting to convince people that they are for real. They are 4-1 now and should cruise to their Thanksgiving match-up with West Haven with LL playoff berth on the line.
Now that we’re halfway through the season, I guess it’s okay to take a peek at the playoff standings. In Class L it looks like a lot of the same names from last year. Hand is #1. Windsor, Masuk and New Canaan are all in the top eight.