Hand Football Begins First Season with Becker
The Hand football team returned to the field to play its first game in two years and also its first contest with program alum Erik Becker as head coach. The Tigers took a 29-16 defeat against Fairfield Prep in their season opener. (Photo courtesy of Erik Becker)
The Tigers have three quality senior captains leading the squad into battle this fall. Pictured are Seth Sweitzer, Ethan O’Brien, and Patch Flanagan. (Photo courtesy of Erik Becker)
It’s been nearly two years since the Daniel Hand football team suited up for a full-contact game. On Sept. 10, first-year Head Coach Erik Becker and the Tigers took the field against Fairfield Prep for what proved an exciting contest.
Hand took a 29-16 loss to the Jesuits in its 2021 opener at Fairfield University on Sept. 10, marking the Tigers’ first regular-season defeat since 2017. Despite the loss, Coach Becker was pleased with what he saw from his team in the Prep game.
“Some things didn’t go our way. When you play a great opponent, the cost of the smallest error is amplified,” said Becker, a Hand football alum who served as H-K’s head coach last year. “With Prep, it’s always a battle. We’re 8-6 overall against them all-time. They’re always really deep and really well-coached. I think we had a great preseason and we scrimmaged a lot of strong teams. Any shortcoming by our team is on me and me only.”
Hand dominated most of the first half versus Prep following an early field goal by the Jesuits in the opening quarter. The Tigers scored back-to-back touchdowns in the second quarter on a 6-yard run by senior captain Ethan O’Brien, followed by a 17-yard connection from quarterback Patch Flanagan to fellow senior captain Seth Sweitzer, who also ran in a pair of 2-point conversions to help Hand grab a 16-3 advantage.
In the final minutes of the second quarter, Prep answered Hand’s two touchdowns with two TDs of its own to even the score at 16-16 going into halftime.
“We made a couple of fundamental mistakes, and that’s on me. I’m confident that we can use this experience as a way to grow and get better,” Coach Becker said. “Everyone has their wake-up moment playing varsity football. I wanted to see us control the clock better at the end of the first half. Due to a couple of flags, we weren’t able to control the clock, and it stopped several times.”
Fairfield Prep controlled the second half by scoring one touchdown in the third quarter and another in the fourth. The Jesuits kept Hand’s offense off the scoreboard and went on to get a 29-16 victory in Becker’s debut as the Tigers’ head coach.
“We don’t control the event. We control our response,” said Becker. “We need to know what gap we’re getting to and how we’re dropping in pass coverage. Their touchdown run in the third quarter, we lost gap responsibility for one play. Against a lesser team than Prep, maybe we could have got away with it. But this is a game where all 11 guys have to do their job every play, otherwise it can cost you a touchdown.”
Becker feels that the Prep contest is only the beginning of what will shape up to be a great season for his team. Most important, Becker feels happy to be back on the field after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 campaign.
“Every year in the preseason, the analogy I use is it’s like we’re building an airplane. You don’t know if it’s going to fly until you try it out for the first time,” Becker said. “It’s been two years since we’ve played real football. There were a lot of unknowns. Our expectations every game are to play with toughness and to be great young men both on and off the field. Our schedule is unforgiving, but we don’t want it to be easy.”
In addition to the three captains—O’Brien, Flanagan, and Sweitzer—Hand’s senior class also features Cam Testa, Connor Powell, Darian McMahon, Wyatt Marcous, Shane Smith, Mario Mazzarella, John Portley, Charlie Keogh, Brendan Walsh, Luke Lerner, Matthew Rossi, and Matt Martone.
Coach Becker likes his senior corps and feels that his three captains are the ideal people to lead the team.
“Our three captains are all tremendous young men. Seth is the seventh member of his family to be a Hand captain, and Patch is the third member of his family to be a captain,” said Becker. “Seth is a wide receiver and cornerback for us, and Patch is our starting quarterback. Ethan is a great running back for us, and he’s one of the fastest kids in the state of Connecticut. The leaders of any team and organization create the culture. There couldn’t be three better ambassadors for our program.”
Hand’s junior class includes John Hayden, Jack Drought, Wes Selmani, Cole Daignault, Sam Sisk, Ryan Milliard, Will Klein, John Kelly, Alex Cushing, Brandon Tananykin, Matt Mastoloni, and Nick Lombardi.
The Tigers’ roster also feature sophomores Jack Shay, John Reh, John Milton, Aidan Dolan, Will Patla, Gavin Wagner, Brady Corsello, Payton Powell, Owen Hardy, Carlos Santos, Tom Meehan, Will Dodd, Bryce Malary, John Pantano, Owen Preskar, and Jack Tompkins.
Coach Becker said there is a lot of versatility on Hand’s roster and that many athletes are contributing for the Tigers on both sides of the ball.
“We have a lot of kids going both ways,” said Becker. “We aren’t the deepest team, so a lot of guys are playing both offense and defense for us, which makes it a little bit tougher on them, but everyone is answering the call.”
Offensive Coordinator Mike Ferraiolo and Defensive Coordinator Mike Davis are assisting Coach Becker on the sidelines this fall. Former longtime head coach Steve Filippone is also an assistant for the team, along with Gary Gravina, John Sagnella, Rich Powers, and Tyler Michaud.
“We have great coordinators in the two Mikes,” said Becker. “Both are great guys and very good at what they do.”
Coach Becker knows that the Tigers have what it takes to be a top team in the state this season. As he begins his first campaign as Hand’s head coach, Becker believes that the process toward success is just as important as any final scores.
“I need to get better at focusing on the process and letting go of outcomes,” Becker said. “You don’t always get the results that you want, so my job is to focus intensely on the process, and then ultimately not take losses so hard.”
2021 Hand Football Schedule
Home games at Surf Club
Sept. 10: Fairfield Prep 29, Hand 16
Friday, Sept. 17: vs. Sheehan at 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 24: vs. New Canaan at 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 1: at Masuk at 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 15: at Shelton at 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 22: at East Lyme at 6:30 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 29: vs. Bunnell at 7 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 5: vs. North Haven at 7 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 19: at Notre Dame-West Haven at Veterans Field at 7 p.m.
Wednesday, Nov. 24: vs. Guilford at 7 p.m.