HAND 23, WINDSOR 6
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.
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.
“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|
07:57 WIND Ryheime Moore 28 yd pass from Robert Fleeting (kick failed)
00:00 HAND Tyler Phan 27 yd field goal
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)