This is a printer-friendly version of an article from Zip06.com.11/28/2021 11:00 PM
The Daniel Hand High School football team is headed back to the postseason. After earning a 43-18 win versus Guilford on Thanksgiving Eve and getting some help from a few other teams in the state, the Tigers clinched a spot in the Class L State Playoffs as the No. 8 seed.
Hand hosted rival Guilford at the Surf Club on Nov. 24 and won the game by a 43-18 score to finish with a record of 7-3 for the regular season. When a few things went their way on Thanksgiving Day, the Tigers had secured the No. 8 seed in the Class L Playoffs, edging out Fitch for the final berth. Hand increased its all-time lead to 42-5-1 in its series with Guilford after defeating the Grizzlies (6-4) in a must-win game.
It means everything to first-year head coach and program alum Erik Becker that the Tigers reached the postseason. Hand, which will compete in the playoffs for the fourth-straight campaign and an SCC-best 14th time overall, is facing at No. 1 St. Joseph in the Class L quarterfinals this week.
“We played really well, and I think we’re playing our best football right now,” Becker said. “This is the best Guilford team we’ve matched up against in years, and a lot of credit has to go to [Grizzles’ Head Coach Anthony Salvati]. He did a great job over there this year, and this was a really solid Guilford football team.”
The Tigers were successful early and often against Guilford as they led 22-0 at the end of the first quarter. Senior captain quarterback Patch Flanagan connected with senior captain wide receiver Seth Sweitzer on a 54-yard touchdown pass on Hand’s first possession of the game.
Following Sweitzer’s score, senior captain running back Ethan O’Brien ran home a 16-yard touchdown to put Hand up by two scores. Then, at the end of the first quarter, Flanagan rushed for a 5-yard TD, and Sweitzer converted the 2-point try for a 22-0 advantage.
Hand capped off its scoring in the first half with a 2-yard rushing touchdown by Flanagan and then a 26-yard TD pass from Flanagan to junior Sam Sisk during the second quarter. The Tigers took a 36-0 lead into halftime.
“We knew we had to come out and play strong football if we wanted to beat Guilford,” said Coach Becker. “We set the tone of the game very early on and played really well on both sides of the ball. I was happy with where we were at heading into halftime.”
After Guilford scored its first touchdown in the third quarter, Hand finished off its scoring when junior Ryan Milliard ran one in from two yards out in the fourth. The Grizzlies scored the last two touchdowns of the game later in the quarter for the 43-18 final.
O’Brien finished the game with 17 rushes for 165 yards and a touchdown for Hand, while Flanagan had six carries for 41 yards and two scores. Flanagan also threw for 95 yards on 7-of-13 passing and pair of TDs.
Sweitzer had three receptions for 63 yards and a touchdown to go with a 14-yard run and a pair of 2-point conversions. Milliard carried the ball four times for 27 yards and a touchdown for Hand. Senior kicker Mario Mazzarella was successful on 3-of-4 extra-point attempts to cap off a big night in all phases of the game.
“A lot of the credit goes to my coaching staff, specifically Offensive Coordinator Mike Ferraiolo and Defensive Coordinator Mike Davis,” Coach Becker said. “Those guys have worked tirelessly with me to make sure we had a solid game-plan going into our matchup against Guilford, and we executed very well.”
Senior Connor Powell had an interception on defense for the Tigers, who saw sophomores Aidan Dolan, Will Patla, and Payton Powell each record a sack in the victory. Dolan and senior Brendan Walsh had seven tackles apiece to help Coach Becker’s squad notch its fifth-straight win to close out the regular season.
“It’s been tremendous. What was tough about this year is everyone started as a first-year varsity player. No players really had any experience at the varsity level, and I really think we became a darn good football team,” said Becker. “We’re playing as one. Our offensive line was a big question mark coming into this season, and they’ve shown out all year long. We know who we are—a downhill, run-pass option team.”
Hand had several players selected to the All-SCC Tier 1 Team last week. On offense, Flanagan made the team at quarterback, O’Brien was selected as a running back, Sweitzer made it at wide receiver, and Walsh earned a spot as an offensive lineman. Sweitzer was also named the SCC Tier 1 Player of the Year in tandem with Fairfield Prep senior Tymaine Smith.
“Our three captains have been our rocks all season,” Becker said of O’Brien, Flanagan, and Sweitzer. “Ethan is easily one of the best running backs in the league, and Patch and Seth have been just as consistent. I’m so proud of the way all of them performed and grew throughout the season, and I’m excited to see how we do in the playoffs.”
Hand, seeded No. 8 in the Class L bracket, played top-seeded St. Joseph (9-1) in the quarterfinals on Nov. 30 (after press time). If the Tigers win that game, they will face the winner of No. 4 Cheney Tech and No. 5 Windsor in the semis on Sunday, Dec. 5 at 12:30 p.m. The Class L final takes place on Saturday, Dec. 11.
On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 seed Naugatuck played No. 7 Masuk in one quarterfinal game, while No. 3 Maloney faced No. 6 Bristol Central in the other quarterfinal. Hand played in the Class L final the last time that states were held in 2019, taking a 17-13 loss to St. Joseph. The Tigers claimed the Class L state title in 2018 and 2017.
Coach Becker feels confident that Hand will be prepared to face St. Joseph in this year’s playoff opener, and his ultimate goal is for the Tigers to come away with a victory.
“St. Joe’s is a very good team. But it’s all about the belief with these kids. As long as they believe they can win, I know we can get the job done. We’ve played one of the most difficult schedules in the state this season, so this is a game we will be ready for,” said Becker. “All season long, my goal has been to make this team a family. I’ve enjoyed this process. The most powerful thing is building relationships, and this team to me feels like a family.”