By NED X. GRIFFEN
Hand senior quarterback Brendan Bilcheck, for whatever reason, played defensive end as a third-grader for Madison Youth Football.
"I couldn't tell you," Bilcheck said when why he was a defensive lineman. "I was the smallest kid at the time. I actually played up because my birthday was 20 days off the cut-off, so I had to play earlier than most kids.
"(Being) a defensive lineman, that's what really gave me my toughness."
Bilcheck said he's between 5-foot-10 ½ and 5-11, and he's generously listed as 170 pounds. He was one of many unimposing looking players for the Tigers this season.
Bilcheck played like a man twice his size this season, absorbing one big hit after another. He played fearlessly and sometimes recklessly, treating his body like a crash-test dummy.
Bilcheck was one of the toughest guys on a team filled with them this season. He helped lead the Tigers to their second straight Class L championship Saturday, 23-6 win over Windsor.
"I've played with him all my life," Hand senior defensive lineman Peter Gerson said. "He's just the toughest (person) I've ever met.
"I remember going back to like when I was eight. He got the ball; he's running downfield and smashes into some big, fat defensive lineman head-to-head. The lineman rolls over, and (Bilcheck) just goes over him and keeps running for a touchdown. That's just his style of play."
Bilcheck's statistics won't wow anyone. He completed 66-percent of his passes in his first year as a starter. He threw for 2,266 yards with 18 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He also ran 116 times for 788 yards with 11 touchdowns.
Bilcheck's value was in how he commanded the Tigers up-tempo spread offense and his ability to make big plays.
"Brendan is not a big guy, but he's a tough guy," Hand coach Steve Filippone said. "He's a physical guy. He doesn't quit. He's got tremendous heart, guts and athleticism.
"That's what makes us different, and I'm afraid of saying it — our kids play with an unbelievable love for this program and the tradition we have. … You match us up man-to-man (with Windsor) and we don't match up at one position on the field. Not one. And we won the game because our kids play with unbelievable character and enthusiasm. We created that through hard work; hard work and commitment. And that's what makes us winners. Nothing else. That's the formula."
Bilcheck shook off two early interceptions against Windsor. He finished completing 15 of 25 passes for 141 yards with a touchdown and two picks. He also ran 14 times for a game-high 92 yards and a score.
"Kids will see him and they'll be like, 'that kid is skinny,'" Gerson said. "'He's not any good. He probably just dances around.' No, he can dance around you, but he will want to run you over and it shows in his play. That's what he does, and I love watching it."
Bilcheck said that his coaches were always yelling at him to either throw the ball away or slide before getting hit. He didn't listen to them enough in a semifinal win over Masuk and was yanked after halftime.
Windsor defensive lineman Keith Benjamin, and 6-3, 235-pound mauler, obliterated Bilcheck during the first half of Saturday's final. As Benjamin devoured him, his arm came across Bilcheck's chest and face like a club.
The hit was both legal and cringe-worthy.
Bilcheck popped right back up and went back at it.
"We would've run him more during the season, but we were afraid he was going to get broken," Filippone said. "We couldn't afford to get him broken, or he would've run for a 1,000 yards this year. He's one of our best running backs if not our best running back. He's a tremendous kid and we'll miss him tremendously."
Bilcheck had the luxury of practicing against one of the best and hardest hitting defenses in the state this season. The Tigers used two platoons and the offense and defense would play against one another.
"They're scary kids," Bilcheck said. "They're kids that can hit and lay the smack.
"Their speed, their physicality is really what makes us good. … Just having the stars on our defense is what makes our offense."
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Sean Bowley, Hearst Inc.: The SCC: "State Champions Conference".
Gentleman Jim Bransfield writes about this-and-that for the Middletown Press.
Bryant Carpenter, Meriden Record-Journal wrote about Bob Zito not being rehired as Maloney's coach. It's disappointing news. Zito is a good coach and an even funnier person.
Ray Curran, Milford-Orange Bulletin: Appreciate the SCC's dominance; doling out the annual awards.
Jeff Jacobs, Hartford Courant: Hand deserves No. 1 ranking.
Mark Jaffee, Waterbury Republican-American: Future looks bright as past for Ansonia football.
Lee Lewis, Waterbury Republican-American: State finals weekend — what we saw.
Chris Josephson, New Britain Herald: Redcoats reached final as a team.
Tom Yantz, Hartford Courant: Hand tops Courant's final high school football ratings.
Pooch Diggity Dogg, JRC Amalgamated: Hand it over! Tigers claim final Register No. 1 ranking.
Tye died and twisted, TEAM DAY: Hand earns final No. 1 ranking in The Day Top 10 state coaches poll. You may be surprised to read which coach voted the Tigers No. 1.
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The FINAL Day of New London Top 10 state coaches' poll with record and first-place votes in parentheses: 1. Hand (13-0, 13); 2. Ansonia (14-0, 2); 3. Xavier (12-1); 4. Hillhouse (11-2); 5. Windsor (11-1); 6. Norwich Free Academy (12-1); 7. Staples (10-1); 8. North Branford (12-1); 9. Berlin (11-2); and, 10. Glastonbury (10-2).
The FINAL New Haven Register Top 10 media poll: 1. Hand (24); 2. Xavier (1); 3. Ansonia; 4. Hillhouse; 5. Windsor; 6. NFA; 7. Staples; 8. Glastonbury; 9. North Branford; and, 10. Southington.
Ned Freeman's FINAL rankings for CalPreps.com and MaxPreps.com: 1. Hand; 2. Xavier; 3. Ansonia; 4. NFA; 5. Staples; 6. Hillhouse; 7. Windsor; 8. North Haven (7-3); 9. Glastonbury; and, 10. Southington (10-1). North Branford was 12th, and Berlin 32nd.
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WFSB's John Holt, a friend of Polecat Enterprises, produced a moving piece on the late Brandon Giordano, a former Oxford lineman.
Giordano, 15, was killed on March 9 while riding in the backseat of a Ford Mustang driven by friend Eric Ramirez. Ramirez was trying to outrun the police and lost control of the car. It crashed into the side of a building.
The Wolverines paid tribute to Giordano in many ways this season. Among them were the coaches giving the hardest working lineman during practice every week his No. 69 jersey to wear at the next game.
We encourage you to watch below.
Vaya con dios....