The Lonesome Polecat (state variant): Here comes Hand
Hand transformed Notre Dame of West Haven’s Veterans Field into its own field after last Friday night’s 43-18 win with players, coaches, parents and fans laughing, smiling and taking photos.
It wasn't like that when the Tigers opened the season with two losses or when they were 2-3. They’ve turned themselves around, though, and are now in position to make yet another trip to the CIAC playoffs.
“We’ve embraced the hard path, that adversity makes you stronger,” Hand head coach Erik Becker said.
Senior quarterback Patch Flanagan said, “We knew it was win (out) or go home. After not having a season last year (due to the pandemic) we knew we didn’t want to lose (again). We knew we wanted a shot in the playoffs because we think we can go far.
“We just started working much harder and taking things a lot more serious.”
Hand (6-3) opened the season with back-to-back losses to Fairfield Prep (29-16) and New Canaan (28-18). Those two opponents are ranked third and fourth, respectively, in The Day's Top 10 state coaches’ poll and have both unofficially qualified for the Class LL playoffs.
The Tigers, like many teams, had very few starters back because this year’s seniors were sophomores the last time there was a state high school football season. Senior Seth Sweitzer was the only returnee from the program’s 2019 Class L runner-up team.
“To start off the season with Prep and New Canaan as a team that was totally untested, the only thing that had been on the field before were the jerseys and Seth Sweitzer,” Becker said.
Hand won its next two games, including a 49-21 rout over Masuk, which is ranked one spot ahead of the Tigers (eighth) in the Class L playoff rankings.
The Tigers dropped to 2-3 after a 33-20 loss at Shelton.
“We woke up,” senior Ethan O’Brien said. “This team has great leadership all around whether you’re a captain or a sophomore. Everyone is a leader on this team. That’s what woke this team up. It united us and got us going after that.”
Becker said, “(We told them) we don’t control events, we control our response. The quality of our response determines the outcome to achieve, and our kids have responded like champions.”
Hand blitzed Notre Dame as it went ahead 21-0 on just nine plays.
Flanagan completed 7 of 11 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown and ran 12 times for 98 yards and two touchdowns. O’Brien added 10 carries for 102 yards and three touchdowns and senior Brendan Walsh had 17 tackles.
“Ethan O’Brien, the last time he carried the ball in a meaningful game was as a 165-pound sophomore mopping it up (late in games),” Becker said. “He’s a man now. He weighs 190 pounds and is 6-2. His evolution over our season has been a joy to watch.
“Patch has grown into a complete quarterback. His ability to take the team and put it on his back reminds me of Mark Punzelt who was a state champion, all-state quarterback for us in 2003. … Seth is an All-American caliber player. Every time he touches the ball, he makes something great happen.
“Our (offensive) line was a huge question mark. We graduated the biggest line. It was a college (sized) line that we graduated (after 2019). The line has been getting better each week led by Brendan Walsh, Matt Rossi, Bryce Malary, Wes Selmani and Jack Drought. Those guys have gotten seasoned and gotten better and just stuck with the process.”
The Tigers need help to make the playoffs. They’re ninth in Class L with the top eight teams. They must beat Guilford on Wednesday (they own an absurd 41-5-1 series lead in the state’s most lopsided Thanksgiving week rivalry) and hope that either Masuk or Thames River loses on that same night.
There was heated debate last week when the CIAC’s Board of Control approved its football committee’s proposal to expand to six playoff divisions next season, meaning that 48 teams would qualify instead of 32.
The CIAC had six divisions with only a state championship from 1981-94. They scaled back to four divisions in 1995 but added a semifinal round.
The CIAC expanded to six, four-team divisions from 2002-09. It eliminated two divisions in 2010 but added a quarterfinal round.
Coaches pushed for a six division, eight-team format because they believed good teams were still being left out. They also pointed to the fact that football has fewer teams make the playoffs than any other CIAC sport, most of which require teams to win just 40 percent of its games.
Those against expansion believed it would water down the accomplishment of winning a title; that it was a case of “everyone gets a trophy.”
Hand has played one of the toughest schedules in the state and has played a part in its record. There are teams ahead of it in the rankings with better records that played easier schedules because not all conferences are the same.
“I think it’s good to get more teams in the playoffs but, at a certain point, not everyone can win,” Flanagan said. “Not everyone can have the perfect season that they wanted. You have to draw the line at some point. I’m not really sure where that is.”
Becker said, “I was on a team in high school that was 8-2 with losses to the No. 1 and 3 ranked teams in the state and we didn’t make (the playoffs). If we beat a very good Guilford team, we’ll be 7-3 with losses to three top 10 LL teams and we might not make it. I think having six divisions makes sense.”
Becker noted that Hand has an enrollment of 535 boys, just 16 more than the maximum for Class M teams.
“I think if we get in L, we’ll make anybody’s life hard,” Becker continued. “I think we can play with anybody in Connecticut.”
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It's one of the most wonderful times of the year — THANKSGRABBING WEEK~!
It’s that time to gorge yourself on turkey and stuffing (preferably with sausage).
It's that time where complete strangers come together to punch one another in the face to get the last “American Girl” doll.
It's that time of year where teams across the state fight for playoff berths and/or pride over three days.
Honestly, we should all embrace this week more than usual after enduring the flaming barge of garbage known as 2020 that kept loved ones from getting together and isolated many.
We encourage you to read Monday’s BRACKETOLOGY~! edition of the Polecat to get a detailed rundown of the four playoff races (and help boost our metrics). It’s very thorough. Like a manifesto.
We’re going to keep things condensed here, so the following have (unofficially) qualified:
CLASS LL: Darien, Fairfield Prep, New Canaan, Hall and Shelton.
CLASS L: Maloney, St. Joseph and Cheney Tech.
CLASS M: Killingly, Granby/Canton, Rockville and Ellington.
CLASS S: Bloomfield, Ansonia, Cromwell/Portland, Holy Cross, New Fairfield.
SEVENTEEN teams in. FIFTEEN berths remaining.
Note that the participants ain’t official until the CIAC’s football committee gives them the A-OK the day after the end of the regular season.
That’s all a lead in to the state’s most important games this week. Some of them will be blowouts based on team records but they all have either playoff implications or are among the most historic rivalries in state history.
There’s only three more days of games after this week, so get your butt out there the next three days and get your fill of #cthsfb before it’s over. You don’t want to live with (any more) regrets.
Lewis Mills (4-5, 2-4 CCC Tier 4) at Avon (6-2, 6-0), Thanksgrabbing Eve Eve, 6:15 p.m.: Avon qualifies for the Class M playoffs with a win.
Simsbury (5-4) at Bloomfield (9-0), Thanksgrabbing Eve Eve, 7 p.m.: The WARHAWKS are second in the state in points scored (386) and first in points against (37). Here’s your chance to see them on a night with a light schedule.
Thames River (8-1) at Quinebaug Valley (7-2), Thanksgrabbing Eve, 5 p.m.: Thames earns its first playoff berth with a win over the PRIDE. Quinebaug still has a shot to go to the L playoffs but must prevail.
Guilford (6-3) at Hand (6-3), Thanksgrabbing Eve, 6 p.m.: You've already read why this here game is so important.
Masuk (7-2, 6-0 SWC) at Newtown (6-3, 5-0), Thanksgrabbing Eve, 6 p.m.: Both teams need the win to make the postseason. Masuk gets in Class L with a win. The Nighthawks are ninth in LL and need the win and some help.
Seymour (7-2, 2-1 NVL Copper) at Woodland (5-4, 2-1), Thanksgrabbing Eve, 6 p.m.: A win sends Seymour to the Class S playoffs.
Ellington (7-2, 4-2 Pequot Uncas 4-2) at Rockville (7-2, 4-2), Thanksgrabbing Eve, 6:30 p.m.: It’s the Route 83 Bowl! Both have also unofficially qualified for the Class M playoffs.
Notre Dame-Fairfield (6-2, 3-2 SWC) at Pomperaug (0-9, 0-5), Thanksgrabbing Eve, 6:30 p.m.: The Lancers head to the Class S playoffs with a win.
Old Saybrook/Westbrook (0-8, 0-5 Pequot Sassacus) at Morgan (7-2, 5-1), Thanksgrabbing Eve, 6:30 p.m.: A win sends the Huskies to the Class S playoffs. They also have one of the state’s most entertaining passing games if you dig that kind of thing.
Windsor (8-1, 6-0 CCC Tier 2) at Middletown (4-5, 3-3), Thanksgrabbing Eve, 6:30 p.m.: The Warriors earn another Class L playoff appearance with a win.
Fairfield Prep (8-1) at West Haven (8-1), Thanksgrabbing Eve, 7 p.m.: The night’s top game. Prep has already qualified in Class LL. It can keep the Westies out of those playoffs with a win.
Branford (7-2, 3-1 SCC Tier 3) at East Haven (1-7, 0-5), Thanksgrabbing, 10 a.m.: The Hornets can earn their first playoff berth since 2005 with a win.
Cheshire (4-5) at Southington (7-2), Thanksgrabbing, 10 a.m.: Southington needs the win to make it to the LL playoffs. The Rams have been inconsistent. They’ve kicked Staples around (42-14, Sept. 24). They were also kicked around by Newtown (34-13, Oct. 22).
Darien (9-0, 6-0 FCIAC East) at New Canaan (8-1, 5-1), Thanksgrabbing, 10 a.m.: THE marquee game of the week. Same as it ever was.
Naugatuck (8-1) at Ansonia (9-0), Thanksgrabbing, 10 a.m.: Naugy likely has to beat the Chargers to qualify for Class L. It hasn’t beaten Ansonia since 2010, though.
Norwich Free Academy (3-6, 1-1 ECC Division I) at New London (6-3, 0-2), Thanksgrabbing, 10 a.m.: The two old friends meet up again in the nation’s oldest rivalry (it began in 1875).
Plainville (6-3, 5-3 CCC Tier 3) at Farmington (0-9, 0-7), Thanksgrabbing, 10 a.m.: A Plainville win means it’s in Class M.
St. Joseph (8-1, 6-0 FCIAC West) at Trumbull (7-2, 5-2), Thanksgrabbing, 10 a.m.: St. Joseph earns the top seed in Class L with a win. The Eagles must win to qualify in LL.
Staples (7-2, 6-1 FCIAC West) at Greenwich (6-3, 5-1), Thanksgrabbing, 10 a.m.: Both teams are just outside the top eight in the current LL rankings but can still qualify with a win and some outside help.
Stonington (5-4) at Westerly, R.I. (7-3), Thanksgrabbing, 10 a.m.: The nation’s oldest Thanksgrabbing rivalry and record-holder for most games (160).
Watertown (6-3, 1-2 NVL Iron) at Torrington (6-3, 3-0), Thanksgrabbing, 10:15 a.m.: The state’s most important game as it pertains to the playoffs as the winner goes to the Class M playoffs.
Bristol Eastern (4-5, 3-3 CCC Tier 3) at Bristol Central (8-1, 6-1), Thanksgrabbing, 10:30 a.m.: Central has produced some great players over the decades but hasn’t made states since 1987. It will earn a spot in Class L by knocking off its city rival.
Granby/Canton (7-2, 5-1 Pequot Uncas) at Gilbert/Northwestern/Housatonic Regional (5-2, 2-2), Thanksgrabbing, 10:30 a.m.: Granby/Canton has already qualified in M and is playing for a top seed. G/N/H still has an outside shot to qualify in that division.
Notre Dame-West Haven (3-6) at Hamden (7-2), Thanksgrabbing, 10:30 a.m.: It’s the GREEN BOWL and, for a change, its Hamden that’s in playoff contention (currently eighth in LL). A win gets the Green Dragons their first trip to states since 2008. Don’t underestimate the Green Knights. They’ve struggled with inconsistency and a rough schedule but knocked off Wilton in overtime earlier in the year (36-35, Oct. 1).
Platt (5-4) at Maloney (8-1), Thanksgrabbing, 10:30 a.m.: Maloney gets at least a top three seed with a win. Their city neighbors to the west would sure like to ruin it for the Spartans.
Woodstock Academy (7-2) at Killingly (8-0), Thanksgrabbing, 10:30 a.m.: It’s the ECC’s Division II champion (Woodstock) vs. the ECC’s Division III champion (Killingly).
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Behold, The Day's Top 10 state coaches’ poll: No. 1 Darien (9-0, 13 first-place votes); 2. St. Joseph (8-1); 3. Fairfield Prep (8-1); 4. New Canaan (8-1); 5. Maloney (8-1); 6. Windsor (8-1); 7. Bloomfield (9-0); 8. Killingly (8-0); 9. Ansonia (9-0); 10. Greenwich (6-3).
Greenwich displaced Trumbull at No. 10 despite both teams being idle (the Cardinals did beat the latter on Oct. 22, 44-12).
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The GameTimeCT/New Haven Register/Hearst Inc. Monolith Top 10 media poll: 1. Darien (21 first-place votes); 2. St. Joseph; 3. New Canaan; 4. Fairfield Prep; 5. Maloney; 6. Greenwich; 7. Killingly; 8. Hall; 9. Shelton; 10. Windsor.
The coaches voted Shelton No. 13 and Hall No. 14.
The media voted Ansonia No. 11 and Bloomfield No. 13.
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Ned Freeman’s cold, calculating computer rankings at CalPreps.com: 1. Darien; 2. St. Joseph; 3. Fairfield Prep; 4. Maloney; 5. New Canaan; 6. Shelton; 7. Greenwich; 8. Hand; 9. Southington; 10. Windsor.
The computer rated Hall No. 14, Bloomfield No. 17, Killingly No. 21 and Ansonia No. 23.
The coaches voted Southington No. 16 and Hand and No. 17.
The media voted Hand No. 20.
Shelton is the new owner of the state’s hardest schedule according to the computer. Its opponents are a combined 49-32 and has wins over Greenwich, Hand and Newtown (6-3). The Gaels lost to Fairfield Prep and Trumbull (7-2).
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Dig the mess Polecat HQ filed for the GameTimeCT/New Haven Register media poll:
2. St. Joseph
3. Fairfield Prep
4. New Canaan
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• Kolon Barry, Tyron Casey and Anthony Maddox, South Windsor: Casey was a busy dude during last Saturday’s 36-27 season-ending win over Enfield. Casey completed 8 of 14 passes for 153 yards and two touchdowns, ran for a touchdown and had an interception on defense. Not too shabby. Maddox had four catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns and added a pick while Barry had nine tackles, including a sack.
• Justin Black Oxford: Had 15 tackles, including a sack, as the WOLVERINES downed Kennedy last Thursday, 27-13.
• Mike Bontempo, Zack Killoran, Dominic Mangiafico, Ellington: Mangiafico ran 20 times for 135 yards and two touchdowns and had 11 tackles (nine solo) in last Friday’s 28-26 win over Morgan. Killoran completed 9 of 12 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns for the Purple Knights and Bontempo had a team-high 12 tackles (10 solo) and two interceptions.
• Jake Brenek and Seth Cunningham, Thames River: Cunningham ran for 245 yards and two touchdowns in last Saturday’s 38-20 win over Abbott Tech/Immaculate. Brenek threw for 176 yards and two touchdowns for the Crusaders.
• Malik Brown-Smith and Marquis Thomas, Granby/Canton: Thomas had two interceptions in last Friday’s 17-0 shutout of the Coginchaug/Hale-Ray-East Hampton co-op. Brown-Smith added 10 tackles (five solo).
• Nathan Chieffo and John Frawley, Branford: Chieffo rushed for 207 yards and two touchdowns in last Thursday’s 35-28 shootout win over Law. Frawley had an interception and recovered a fumble at the Hornets’ 17-yard line with 2 minutes, 26 seconds left to allow Branford to run out the clock.
• Sean Clinkscales, Torrington: Ran for touchdowns of 33, 2, 13 and 44 yards and also had two two-point conversion runs in last Friday’s 50-6 mauling of Wolcott.
• Dazhaun Copeland and Xavier McCall, Cheney Tech: McCall caught a 22-yard touchdown pass and had two sacks as the Beavers chewed up VG Techs last Friday, 49-0, to clinch the Connecticut Technical Conference title. Copeland threw just twice and completed both for 39 yards and two scores.
• Jon D’Amore, Jonjon Morales and Jamie Palmese, Berlin: D’Amore and Palmese each had two of the most ludicrous stat lines of the season. Palmese ran seven times for 223 yards and four touchdowns as the Redcoats thrashed New Britain last Friday, 51-12. D’Amore, meanwhile, was credited with 21 tackles, including 16 solo. Really? Is that humanly possible? Morales also had two picks.
• Frank Danily, Hillhouse: The senior literally carried the Academics to their 24-18 win over Amity last Friday. He ran THIRTY THREE times for 287 yards and two touchdowns.
• Tyreice Dominique, Rocky Hill: Ran 13 times for 190 yards and three touchdowns and threw for 40 yards in a 46-21 loss to Avon.
• Travon Edmondson, Amir Knighton and Deshaun Perry, Rockville: Edmondson ran 13 times for 81 yards and two touchdowns in last Thursday’s 35-8 win over Valley Regional/Old Lyme. Knighton scored on runs of 8 and 5 yards and blocked a punt for the Rams and Perry added 18 carries for 123 yards and a score.
• Tabor Engle, Avon: The senior shouldered a heavy load (again) in last Thursday’s 46-21 win over Rocky Hill. He ran 32 times for 222 yards and five touchdowns to help the Falcons clinch a share of the CCC Tier 4 title. They will win it outright with a win over Lewis Mills on Tuesday night. Oh, yeah — Avon ran 52 times for 335 yards and threw just once. APPROVED.
• Jayden Fields, Kameron Massey and Kiawan Murphy, East Hartford: Fields ran for 219 yards and four touchdowns on just 14 carries in last Friday’s 43-27 win over Manchester. Massey had two interceptions for the Hornets and Murphy had 2.5 sacks.
• Alex Fratamico, Garret Garbinski and Andrew Nye, Morgan: Nye completed 26 of 45 passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns in the Ellington loss. Fratamico had 10 catches for 92 yards and a touchdown for the Huskies and Garbinski added nine catches for 118 yards and a score.
• Lio Griffin-Hill, New London: He ran for three touchdowns and scored on a kickoff return in last Friday’s 35-12 win over Wilbur Cross.
• Matthew Hagerty, John Neider and Jack Sellman, Law: Neider ran 20 times for 192 yards and two touchdowns and completed 16 of 32 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns in last Thursday’s 35-28 loss to Branford. Hagerty added four catches for 35 yards and two touchdowns and Sellman had 12 tackles.
• Hamden: Camyran Winder needed just eight carries for 113 yards and two touchdowns, caught four passes for 49 yards and a score and had five tackles in last Thursday’s 39-13 win over Westhill. JJ Gibson completed 7 of 16 passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns for the Green Dragons and Daniel Chmielecki and Russell Lasane Jr. each had two sacks.
• Drew Kron, Xavier: Threw four touchdown passes in last Saturday's 42-11 win over Glastonbury.
• D’vonte Lane, Waterbury Career Academy: Ran 17 times for 173 yards and three touchdowns in last Thursday’s 38-8 win over St. Paul.
• Tom Ligi, Holy Cross: Ran 26 times for 208 yards and four touchdowns last Thursday as the Crusaders thumped Seymour, 35-6, and (unofficially) clinched a Class S playoff berth.
• Jacob Marques, Northwest UNITED: Ran for three touchdowns as the WORKHORSES shut out Prince Tech last Friday, 38-0.
• Grant Masterson, Wilton: Threw four touchdown passes as the Warriors beat down Pomperaug last Friday, 43-0.
• Michael O’Brien, Guilford: Required a mere 11 carries to rush for 186 yards and four touchdowns in last Thursday’s 48-0 rout of East Haven.
• Thomas Williams, Fitch: Ran for 153 yards and two touchdowns in last Thursday’s 41-12 win over the Capital Prep/Achievement First co-op.
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Thanks for reading. More soon.