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Hand earns No. 1 ranking in The Day's final H.S. football poll

By Ned Griffen

Publication: The Day

Published December 11. 2012 4:00AM

It was late last January and Steve Filippone was already discussing his Hand of Madison football team's 2012 schedule.

The Tigers would play the likes of two-time defending Class LL champion Xavier along with Hillhouse, West Haven, North Haven, Cheshire and Shelton.

Filippone believed that if Hand could get through the regular season and repeat as Class L champion, the Tigers should finish No. 1 in the state based on their body of work.

Filippone got what he wished for Monday when Hand was voted the No. 1 high school football team in Connecticut in The Day's final Top 10 state coaches' poll.

The Tigers received 11 out of 13 first-place votes.

"I really did feel that way," Filippone said. "The first hurdle was getting Xavier undefeated. If we beat Xavier, I felt like we had a shot at running the table.

"I figured we'd be battle-tested to the point that if we stayed healthy, we'd be okay in the (state) tournament."

Class S champion Ansonia (14-0) finished second in the voting and received the other two first-place votes. Ansonia head coach Tom Brockett, who votes in the weekly poll, voted for Hand.

"Tommy is one of the most honorable guys and one of the best guys out there," Filippone said. "He's got a program that's par excellence. Nobody has been able to do over time what he's been able to do (win four state titles in seven seasons).

"I was interviewed by Kyle Brennan (of the Waterbury Republican-American) and he asked, 'What about Ansonia?' I said, 'Look, I said it back in 2005 and I'll say it again — put our name and their name in the same sentence and make comparisons with our program and their program, and you're giving us one of the highest compliments you could.' To be considered in the same sentence with Ansonia and equate it to what they've done with their program is a tremendous compliment. Tommy is a good man, and I appreciate his candor and his willingness to vote us."

The Tigers were the first team since New London in 1991 to beat two state champions during the regular season. The Whalers defeated Class MM champion Ledyard (31-14) and Class SS champion Stonington (12-6). The CIAC had six divisions at that time. It currently has four.

"We beat the LL champion and we beat the M champion," Filippone said. "We didn't play the S champion (Ansonia), and I think it would be a helluva a game. ... I wouldn't predict a winner, but it would be a heck of a game."

Xavier, Hillhouse and Class L runnerup Windsor finished three-through-five respectively.

The Top 10 was rounded out by Class LL runnerup Norwich Free Academy (12-1), Staples of Westport (10-1), Class S runnerup North Branford (12-1), Class M runnerup Berlin (11-2) and Glastonbury (10-2).

Hand also finished first in the New Haven Register media poll, receiving 24 out of 25 first-place votes. Xavier received the other first place vote and finished second. Ansonia was third, Hillhouse fourth and Windsor fifth.

n.griffen@theday.com

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