Last Saturday, the Tigers came very close to losing their #1 ranking after only one week. The West Haven Blue Devils arrived at the Surf Club for a rare afternoon game ready for the challenge. Both teams had 5-0 records coming into the game. West Haven was ranked #8.
The teams were tied 14-14 at the half and played a scoreless third quarter. Midway through the fourth, the Tigers were facing a fourth and goal from the one yard line. Everyone knew who was about to get the carry, but that didn’t matter. Matt Walsh plunged ahead for the go-ahead score. Tyler Phan’s kick made it Hand 21, West Haven 14.
West Haven came right back with a five-play 59 yard drive, finished with a one yard TD run by Ervin Phillips. With 3:32 remaining in the game, West Haven went for the win on a two-point try. Quarterback Javon Taylor’s pass slipped through the hands of Ervin Phillips and fell to the ground. Hand held on to a 21-20 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff West Haven attempted the onside kick, but it was recovered by Hand. Three huge first downs gained on Matt Walsh runs brought the Tigers to a first and goal from the West Haven five yard line with 1:05 left. From there Brendan Bilcheck took a couple of kneel downs to run out the clock and seal the win.
The win clinched the SCC Division I East for the Tigers. They also retained their #1 ranking this week.
The Tigers (6-0) will travel to North Haven (4-2) tonight looking for their 20th consecutive win. North Haven’s two losses are to teams that Hand has beaten. North Haven lost to Xavier 49-12 and Hillhouse 27-14. So on paper... it looks like Hand should be able to handle North Haven easily, right? It doesn’t work that way though.
Regardless of their record, North Haven presents some unique problems. In a time where the spread pass-oriented game in is vogue, North Haven has become the contrarian. They use an old-school, run oriented, single wing offense. And they do it well. This offense originates from the days of “Pop” Warner and the Carlisle Indians, but today even some NFL teams will use it briefly and call it their “Wildcat” package.
In the single wing, the ball is snapped directly to the tailback eliminating the need for a quarterback or hand-off. This frees up one position so that an extra blocker can be placed on or in the vicinity of the line. Most of the time the resulting play looks a bit like a rugby scrum with a big pile in the center of the field. The defense is then forced to commit more players to stop the inside run. And when they do... bam! The offense comes back with a counter, reverse or play action pass.
North Haven is the only team Hand will face that plays this offense. That has made this past week's practice more difficult, because the defense had to put in some adjustments and they only had one week to learn them.
In week four, North Haven dominated previously unbeaten New London 34-20, amassing over 400 yards rushing on the night. That night their top player, Jalon White, ran for 325 yards and scored five touchdowns. Look for North Haven to try and repeat that game plan against Hand. Control the ball, control the clock, keep it close.
Conversely, what Hand needs to do to win is to come out strong and build a lead early. Coming from behind and scoring quickly are not things that North Haven can do well with their offense. Hand saw last week how the opposing team can get fired up when playing number one. Hand definitely does not want this one to be close in the fourth quarter.
The weather report looks great for the game; clear and 60 degrees.
Patch Players of the Week
Offense: Matt Walsh picked up where he left off last week scoring two touchdowns with his power running. Again Kyle Anderson came up with some “clutch” receptions. But it was quarterback BRENDAN BILCHECK who kept the team moving. Running when necessary with extra effort and passing 22 of 27 for 169 yards.
Defense: The defense was not as sharp as usual this week. There were many missed tackles. But in the end they did enough to hold on. The play of the day was TOM WILSON’S interception in the Hand end zone to kill a West Haven drive in the third quarter.
Around the SCC
It was a crazy week in the SCC with a bunch of almost upsets:
Hillhouse hung on to beat Guilford 20-18 after Guilford’s field goal attempt late in the game sailed wide.
Wilbur Cross was leading Cheshire 21-6 at the half, but ended up losing 28-23.
Fairfield Prep found themselves tied with Hamden 20-20 in the fourth quarter, but pulled out a 27-20 win.
And chalk one up for Division II over Division I, as Foran defeated Notre Dame 50-35.
This week’s game of the week - Xavier at Hillhouse, 3 pm today.
On the radio: Cheshire at West Haven, 7 pm, on 960 WELI with the "Coach" George DeMaio.
Hand remains at the top of Class L. 2. Windsor, 3. Avon, 4. Masuk, 5. Farmington, 6. Middletown, 7. New Canaan, 8. Fitch, 9. Platt Tech, 10. Darien, 11. North Haven, 12. Branford. (The top eight teams qualify for playoffs)