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It was a goal-line stand that sealed a victory for the Tigers’ football team and potentially saved its season.
Hand defeated Notre Dame-West Haven, 21-20, on Nov. 15 at home after stopping the Green Knights on a two-point conversion attempt to improve to 7-3 overall and finish 3-1 in SCC Division I East action. The Tigers clinched the matchup when they stopped the Green Knights on a two-point conversion attempt to get the win and pump life into their playoff aspirations.
“We knew that they were going to go for two to win the game right there, and they had the momentum, so that was a bold and courageous call by them,” said Head Coach Steve Filippone. “[Defensive coordinator] Dave Mastroianni called for man coverage, then our linebacker Pat Rogers flattened him out, and Sam Katz was in the perfect position for the stop.”
Nick Van Dell was 16-of-25 passing for 155 yards and two scores, while Conor Dowd led the rushing department with 42 yards on 14 carries.
Van Dell got the night started for the Tigers with an 11-yard touchdown strike to Tim D’Annolfo (3 catches, 21 yards) before NDWH answered back on a 51-yard reception for a score. Hand went up 14-7 at the break thanks to Van Dell connecting with Tristan Dowd (2 receptions, 22 yards) on a 12-yard pass.
“We did a tremendous job of stopping the run; the kids played very hard, but our downfall was against their passing game,” said Filippone. “They beat us in their passing game, but I thought the defense played well in the physical aspect of the game.”
The Tigers (235 all-purpose yards) padded their lead to 21-7 when Van Dell (8 rushes, 36 yards) found the end zone on a 15-yard keeper, yet the Green Knights came storming back with four and 1-yard dashes to score. NDWH running back Cam Tucker tried on the ensuing two-point play following his 1-yard touchdown to give his squad the one-point edge, but he was stopped by Katz to lock up Hand’s seventh triumph.
Elsewhere through the air, Tom Wilson grabbed three balls for 59 yards, Jake Mirando snagged four on 24 yards, and Josh DeMartino reeled in three receptions for 18 yards. On defense, Katz additionally had an interception.
“I think our kids knew that the way we’ve been playing defense that you can’t rest and you have to get stops,” said Filippone, whose squad also committed four turnovers. “We were hoping that our offense could’ve sustained longer drives, but there were too many three-and-outs. All-in-all not a stellar performance by us; we are lucky to get the win and keep our hopes alive.”
Hand currently sits at ninth in the Class L playoff standings with a 111.00 point average. The top eight teams qualify. The Tigers finish up the regular season on Wednesday, Nov. 27 with a trip to rival Guilford (5-5) at 7 p.m.
“They are a great triple-option team, and [quarterback] Joe Nault has been running the show there for three years now and is one of the best players in the league,” said Filippone. “They have an opportunity for their first win over us in a while; they can also knock us out of playoff contention, and earn themselves a winning season, so there is a lot of motivation for them. There is still a lot left on the table for us. With the toughest schedule in the state this year and to have a winning season, we will be very proud, but we want to get into the playoffs and accomplish another one of our goals.”