‘About Last Weekend…’ Week 5: The Changing of the Guard

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Hand's Matt Walsh scores the last of his five touchdowns in the Tigers' 40-20 victory over Xavier at Palmer Field Friday night.

With keen and wisened eyes, a number of Xavier High School football alumni grouped together in shallow right at Palmer Field Friday night.

It was a who’s who of Xavier’s recent, glorious past: Ryan Murphy, Jovan Santos, Austin Wezenski, Sean Marinan, Ryan Jacobucci, Graham Stewart.

Their alma mater was leading Hand 20-14 at halftime in Connecticut’s high school football game of the year.

The game was still in doubt. The alumni, all of whom had been the architects, foremen and builders of two state championships and all but last four of Xavier’s previous 30 victories, were edgy, but confident.

“We got this,” said Ryan Murphy, the former all-state end and back. “They’re not going to be able to keep Tim down. …I’m pretty sure (coach Sean) Marinan gave them lashing in the locker room.”

‘Tim’ is quarterback Tim Boyle, the Boston College-bound quarterback who helped Xavier rally twice in the first half to take their lead.

Outside an unfortunate punt snap and, later, a trick play that helped Hand score its two touchdowns, Murphy’s assessment of the second half seemed to be on-target.

But even he and his band of brothers could tell: Their understudies aren’t as polished as they were a season ago. This wasn’t the same Xavier. This was 2012, not 2011.

Someone said they’d love to see Staples and Class LL championship game. “Yeah,” said Santos, his teammates nodding around him.
“But you know what?” he added. “…It’ll be a much closer game.”

This was before Hand turned the game upside-down. This was before the Tigers marched 95 yards in 23 plays to tie the game. This was before Hand’s defense smothered Xavier on three plays and then marched right back down the field and scored again.

Forget Staples-Xavier fighting for No. 1 in a potential Class LL championship game. UConn recruit Matt Walsh and Hand proved what everyone wearing black feared: Xavier’s reign atop the Connecticut football world is in dispute, if not over already.

Hand's Caleb Ewald scores on a touchdown catch-and-run in the third quarter of Hand's 40-20 victory over Xavier Friday night.

Boyle and Xavier managed just eight plays to Hand’s 48 in the second half. Though outsized on the lines, the Tigers weren’t out-toughed, outclassed or out-played. Hand churned its way up the field, converting a pair of huge fourth downs — one on a tipped-pass catch by offensive lineman Cam Gravina, the other a pass-interference call — to score the tying and go-ahead touchdowns.

Then Xavier flubbed the ensuing kickoff. Hand got the ball back and that was that.

“I didn’t have to say a whole lot (at halftime),” Hand coach Steve Filippone said. “It was just a matter of us playing our game and getting into rhythm.”

Hand outgained Xavier 305-39 in the second half and by the fourth quarter, Xavier’s notorious fan section — The Black Hole — had been drowned out by the legions of Hand fans who paraded up Route 79 in a caravan Ray Curren described as “Hickory-esque.”

From the start, their presence reverberated across the complex. The Hand band, not the Xavier band, performed on the field at halftime.

The Hand student body jeered, ‘OVER-RATED’ at Xavier … when it was just 7-0.

Late in the game, they cheered, ‘START THE BUSES!’ … at the home team.

Yeah.

The Xavier student body, meanwhile, sat in stunned silence.

“They call their fans the Black Hole, but it felt like the Surf Club out there tonight,” said Walsh, who scored five touchdowns on five carries before a garbage-time run at the end of the game.

Heh. An an opponent working with garbage time. …At Palmer Field.

“They out-physicaled us up front, on both sides of the ball in the second half,” said Xavier coach Sean Marinan, who tasted defeat for the first time since the 2009 Class LL semifinals vs. Staples, and for the first time at Palmer Field since a 37-19 loss to Wilbur Cross in Week 1 of that year. “We couldn’t get anything going with offense. We couldn’t stop them defensively.”

We didn’t make a pregame prediction, but quietly I had it pegged 35-24, Xavier.

I saw a few Hand predictions floating around. But most, if not all, said Hand would win in a close game.

Not 40-20.

“We know we’re a second-half team,” Walsh said. “We were last year. I don’t know if any of you were at the Masuk (Class L semifinal) game, but it was 14-14 and we came out of (halftime) and we just exploded and we did the same thing today.”

Now we enter new territory as the second-half of the 2012 high school football season.

For the first time since Xavier toppled Notre Dame-West Haven on opening night of 2010, we’re looking for a new No. 1.

It’s a brave new world.

Xavier has lost its mojo — for now. Hand has an extra swagger. Meanwhile, Ansonia is rolling in the NVL. Staples is rolling in the FCIAC. Masuk is dominating the SWC. Windsor, Glastonbury and Southington are taking care of business in the CCC… etc.

Lest we forget the teams we cover southwestern Connecticut, here’s what was what in Week 5. While everyone had their eyes fixed on Palmer Field,  we same some surprising results down in Shangri La:

To wit:

Trumbull coach Bob Maffei pumps his fist as his team scores in their upset of Darien on Friday night.

Whew. Crazy week.

Here are your recaps and links to all of Week 5’s proceedings.

Friday

Saturday

Sean Patrick Bowley