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The Hand football team continues to tally victories and prove that its opening night loss at New Canaan is nothing but a distant memory.
The Tigers traveled to SCC Division I East rival Cheshire on Oct. 11 and emerged with a 35-24 victory—Hand’s fourth straight win. Head Coach Steve Filippone’s squad was led by sophomore quarterback Nick Van Dell, who was 20-for-28 and threw for 284 yards and three touchdowns, while running for another.
“Our offensive line was amazing with giving me time out there,” said Van Dell. “I also had receivers that were perfect with running their routes. This was a huge division matchup and it was great to get the win. I am pretty close with my wide receivers and throwing the ball is key in our offense.”
Despite only leading Cheshire 14-10 at the break, the Tigers pulled away in the second thanks to a touchdown toss to senior receiver Josh DeMartino (5 receptions, 88 yards), a 69-yard rush to the end zone by senior back Conor Dowd (19 carries, 133 yards), and a 2-yard scamper by Van Dell. Senior receiver Jake Mirando also finished with 77 yards on five catches.
“We were kind of flat in the beginning, but we knew we could put up points,” said Van Dell, whose Tigers finished with 476 all-purpose yards. “We took advantage of their defense and struck with some big plays.”
Hand (4-1; 2-0 SCC Division I East) built up a 14-0 edge into the second quarter with Van Dell’s pair of 14-yard touchdown passes to senior wide out Tom Wilson (10 catches, 120 yards) in each of the first two periods. Yet the Rams (2-3; 0-2) came charging back with a scoring dash from one yard out. Following that, one of Van Dell’s two interceptions on the evening led to Cheshire notching a 34-yard field goal to give Hand only a four-point cushion at halftime.
“Overall, it wasn’t our best game,” said Filippone. “I thought we didn’t play with the same intensity that we did versus North Haven. We were a little flat and that was reflected in our performance on offense and defense. We still rallied, though, and won an important game on the road.”
The Tigers came out strong in the third quarter, as Van Dell and DeMartino connected on a 21-yard hookup prior to Dowd’s scoring rush to make it a 28-10 ball game. Cheshire cut its deficit to 10 following a rushing score and a two-point conversion, but Van Dell (8 rushes, 47 yards) answered back by taking it in on his own from two yards out. The Rams tacked on a late score, yet it was not enough to overcome the Tigers.
“Nick had an incredible night,” said Filippone. “He is getting better every day and is a huge bright spot for us. Conor played great, and Tom Wilson did a terrific job. Our offense is improving, yet our defense didn’t play with intensity. As the game progresses, we do better in the second half offensively than the first, because our speed slows people down. There were times in this game when Cheshire wasn’t getting in its stances. We think we can wear people out by the end of the third.”
Hand next hosts Class LL title contender Fairfield Prep (4-1), which knocked off previously undefeated Shelton, on Friday, Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. before the Tigers travel to those same Gaels (4-1) on Friday, Oct. 25 at 7 p.m.
“We just have to work very hard,” said Van Dell. “We know these teams are really good, so we have to keep our focus and work hard. Every game will be a battle, and we have to give it our all.”
In terms of a playoff berth with five games remaining, Hand currently sits sixth in the Class L rankings (where the top 8 squads qualify for the postseason) with 520 points and an average of 104.
“Our goal is to try and win them all, but the reality is that this is a tough stretch,” said Filippone. “Yet we do things on offense that cause problems for other teams. We move the ball and our kicking game has been good. If we have our defense rise to the occasion and play to a higher level, then we will be ok. We were hoping we’d be 4-1 or better at this point, and we said that if we stayed relatively healthy and matured, then we’d be in a position to compete with these teams and we can.”