Class L: Rogers kickstarts Hand’s second straight championship



Peter Gerson (left) and the rest of the Hand football team celebrates its second consecutive Class L championship Saturday night at Rentschler Field

EAST HARTFORD — Dan Rogers and his twin brother Pat really had no choice. Their parents divorced. The two Weston football stars had to pack up and move to another part of the state. New town, a new school, new friends, a whole new football team.

When they moved to Madison in August, Hand coach Steve Filippone, whose program was coming off a Class L championship the year before, made the newcomers a promise: “You will win a state championship.”

As it turned out, at a most crucial moment in the Class L championship game vs. Windsor, Rogers was the one who made Filippone’s promise come true.

Rogers scooped up a fumble and raced 42 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter for what turned out to be a back-breaking score that delivered Hand its second consecutive Class L championship and, most likely the No. 1 ranking — the third No. 1 ranking in school history.

“Two years in a row, it’s almost unreal,” said linebacker Matt Walsh, who led Hand’s staunch defense with 15 tackles. “One or two other Hand High School teams have gone out No. 1. And for us to do that our senior year, it’s just an unreal feeling right now. No other words can describe that.”

This is Hand’s 11th state championship, which passed St. Joseph for second-most in state history behind Ansonia (18).

“They’re a very good football team,” Warriors head coach Robert Fleeting told Ned Griffen of The Day. “Things just got away from us offensively. We couldn’t get into a rhythm. Our defensive was just on the field a little bit too long.”

Until Rogers’ scoop and score gave Hand some desperately-needed breathing room, this title was still very much in doubt.

Dan Rogers races untouched with a fumble recovery for a touchdown in Hand's 23-6 victory over Windsor in the Class L championship game.

No. 2-seeded Windsor (11-1) had given the Tigers one of their toughest games of the season. Windsor’s big and aggressive defense harassed Hand quarterback Brendan Bilcheck into a pair of interceptions and held the Tigers scoreless until the final play of the first half.

Windsor led 6-3 on Robert Quinn Fleeting’s 28-yard touchdown pass to Ryheiem Moore. Though Hand salvaged a 27-yard field goal, everyone in the building was thinking upset.

But Hand got its act together in the second half. Bilcheck threw a 23-yard touchdown to Caleb Ewald on a middle screen which gave Hand its first lead of the game 10-6 early in the third quarter.

On the ensuing possession Quinn Fleeting absorbed a hit from Hand linebacker Matt Walsh and lost his helmet, forcing him to come out of the game for a play.

But on that one play, backup John Nolan fumbled the snap. The ball rolled beneath Nolan and right to Rogers with nothing but 42 yards of Rentschler Field grass in front of him.

“I was kind of surprised, yeah,” said Rogers, who assumed the starting job at linebacker toward the end of the season. “I wasn’t going to just fall on it. I never try to just fall on it.”

The play galvanized Hand.

“That was a huge game-changer, momentum changer,” Walsh said. “We’d only had one (touchdown) to that point. We had just been knocking on the door and as soon as that happened we busted down the door and we were running free.”

Hand’s defense held Windsor to just 16 total yards in the third quarter. Bilcheck tacked on a 4-yard touchdown to give Hand a 23-6 lead. Windsor never got any closer.

Caleb Ewald scores on a middle screen play to give Hand it's first lead of the game (10-6) in the third quarter.

“I think that broke their back, to be honest with you,” Hand coach Steve Filippone said. “I think it would break most any team’s back. It’s bad enough when you score on offense, but to score on defense is tough.

Hand sacked Fleeting six times and made nine tackles for negative yardage. Weston Staples and Gerson had two sacks apiece. Alex Tuccero had an interception.

“First half, we had our mistakes on offense,” Gerson said. “Second half, we found our mistakes, we fixed them, we got our intensity back and it shows on the scoreboard.

“Our offense did its thing and our defense did what it does all year and that’s smack teams, punch them in the mouth. They made a personal insult on us, saying they were going to run the ball on us, saying they were going to get yards. You insult this team, we’ll punch you straight in the mouth and you’re going to figure it out fast.”


December 8, at Rentschler Field, East Hartford 1 2 3 4 Total
(2) Windsor (11-1) 0 6 0 0 6
(1) Daniel Hand (13-0) 0 3 20 0 23

Second Quarter
07:57 WIND Ryheime Moore 28 yd pass from Robert Fleeting (kick failed)
00:00 HAND Tyler Phan 27 yd field goal
Third Quarter
08:33 HAND Caleb Ewald 23 yd pass from Brendan Bilcheck (Tyler Phan kick)
05:43 HAND Daniel Rogers 42 yd fumble recovery (Tyler Phan kick failed)
01:43 HAND Brendan Bilcheck 4 yd run (Tyler Phan kick)

Sean Patrick Bowley

27 Responses

  1. ciacfollower says:

    SPB – I new you could put a south west twist on the Madison victory.
    Here’s another one for ya,
    Weston Staples(#45) led Hand in tackles.

  2. I had to. Bookends.

    Not done with this one yet. Kicked out of pressbox

  3. ciacfollower says:

    Corrrection, Walsh had the most tackles, then #45

  4. Rocketking says:

    Great win for hand. But they really dont deserve #1. Better teams out there

  5. GHS1973 says:

    Good job Bowley….Hopefully I’ll harass from Florida next year…Hope some of these young men can get a good deal out of these excellant performances on the field…Seeeee Yaaaaaa

  6. Football Fan says:

    @ Rocketking ” Better teams out there”… Very True but not in Connecticut High School Football for the Fall of 2012.

  7. ciacfollower says:

    King – maybe in other states

  8. ciacfollower says:

    King – maybe in other states there’s better teams

  9. Paul says:

    Rocket….LOL must be an Ansonia fan…Better teams out there?Who?they beat them all.

  10. ciacfollower says:

    No, thats a sore Windsor player

  11. Bubba says:

    HAND defeated 5 top ten ranked teams in the State. They are the undisputed #1 team in the state. If they don’t get every first place vote, I will be surprised but not really. Hand’s body of work is second to none. Collect your hardware Tigers!!!

  12. roto says:

    I’m curious…would Xavier or Hillhouse even qualified for the playoffs under previous formats? Thank you SPB for advocating for the current system. I always thought some of the state champs in past years were suspect at best when 1 and 2-loss SCC teams sat at home, since the system rewarded those who played the easiest possible regular season schedule. I’m sure the crying for a return to six classes has already begun from certain quarters. I implore the CIAC not to listen. The solution for the other leagues is to work to get better.

  13. MXR says:

    Roto, as 3 and 4 seeds they should have qualified in the most recent prior system with 4 teams in each of 6 Classes. In the original set-up of just two teams in each of 4 Classes (pre-1995) they would not have.

  14. @Roto – Agree wholeheartedly. DO NOT make this a 6-team affair.

  15. another fan says:

    Why were you kicked out of the press box? For naming the twins from Weston?

  16. @another fan – No, because they were closing it. No sympathy for us working stiffs who have to write stories, edit photos, etc.

  17. RAY BROWN says:


  18. Ballfoot says:

    Hand beat two State Champions and probally the best CCC Team, Hand deserves to be 1

  19. jeb says:

    Next years opening day games between the FCIAC and SWC will deliver the knockout blow to several teams who lose that first game as far as qualifying for the state tournament. Best thing to happen to high school football in a long time. Would like to see Newtown and Ansonia get together along with Masuk and Southington. As a FCIAC fan it looks as though the SCC will sweep almost every game. Staples should be able to beat Xavier and ST. Josephs should beat Notre Dame. Hand vs. New Canaan could be interesting but thats it.

  20. SJ Alum says:

    #1. Hand undisputed (2nd toughest schedule, best overall)
    #2. Xavier (soundly beat NFA who beat Staples who was BELIEVED to be #1
    #3. Ansonia (will continue to win in S)
    #4. Hillhouse (Tough schedule, played their hearts out)
    #5. NFA (returns next year,experienced and educated)
    #6. Staples (disappointing loss to NFA,nightmare for seniors,motivation for underclassmen)
    #7. Windsor (great effort fell short)
    #8. Berlin (nice 1st half effort against house)
    #9. North Branford (if only Ansonia played in M)
    #10. Tie Greenwich/Glastonbury (would of been a game to watch)

  21. old timer says:

    hand no question best in the state. year after year they take on all comers. they have handled the speedy westies for years so that argument goes out the window. amazing for a small town with in today’s world just “average athletes” that they continue to roll. hats off the filippone, his staff, and their youth football coaches.

  22. ciacfollower says:

    SJ – you didnt list who you thought had the 1st toughest sched.

  23. Weasel says:

    For someone who grew up in Weston and Westport, I think it’s fabulous that there’s someone named “Weston Staples.”

    I wonder if its on purpose.

  24. @Weasel – i love it too. What are the odds? He’s like the border’s soul child.

  25. ciacfollower says:

    There ‘s quite a few i.e.,
    Staples & Rogers bros + others, that are FField County transplantians in Madison. What can you say? Its actually a nicer town & beaches that has about 50% less cost of living than FFC….The bonus is, its got a better football program !

  26. ciacfollower says:

    There ‘s quite a few i.e.,
    Staples & Rogers bros + others, that are FField County transplantians in Madison. What can you say? Its actually a nicer town & beaches that has about 50% less cost of living than FFC….bonus is, its got a better football program !

  27. Spreado says:

    Even as an Ansonia fan I say Hand is #1 clearly. I love the brand of football they play which is very similar to how Ansonia plays. They play physical, fast with a sense of pride and tradition. I would love to see Hand vs Ansonia next season. Each of the top ranked teams are all very good teams. I want to say congrats to every team and player. Even those who didn’t make the playoffs, football takes a huge commitment and can be grueling. So great job to all of the young men and women who play football for the state of CT, good luck next season.