MADISON >> Hand quarterback Nick van Dell often displays the poise of an upperclassman. Occasionally, one can tell he’s still a sophomore.
Both occurred during the same series in the fourth quarter against Fairfield Prep Friday.
Instead of throwing the ball away, van Dell took a sack, which resulted in an 11-yard loss. On the very next play, van Dell connected with senior Tom Wilson on 3rd-and-long for a 76-yard touchdown pass to put the Tigers up by two scores.
That strike ended up being the difference in the Tigers’ 35-27 victory over the Jesuits, ranked No. 8 in the Register Top 10 Poll, in this Southern Connecticut Conference Division I contest at the Surf Club.
Fairfield Prep (4-2) scored on the ensuing possession, but Hand (5-1) was able to run the clock out and emerge victorious.
The Tigers have won five straight since losing to No. 2 New Canaan in the season opener. Van Dell has since taken over as his team’s starter and Hand has vastly improved because of his contributions.
“What I said to him were these exact words: ‘Do you know what makes a superstar?’” Hand coach Steve Filippone said.
“Somebody who can make a bonehead play, and then on the next play, totally forget it and come back and just do a miraculous thing, which is exactly what he did. How many sophomores can make that mistake, have me up their you-know-what and then come back and throw a 70-yard ball on the money for a touchdown to win the game?”
Said van Dell: “I was definitely a little (upset) taking that sack, I should’ve thrown it away. It was a stupid decision on my part. So I came back on the next play, didn’t really worry about the play before, just got over it, and threw it up to Tommy, who made an amazing catch.”
Van Dell completed 18 of 23 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns.
“Nick’s a playmaker; he loves making plays,” Wilson said. “He never wants to go out of bounds, he never wants to give up on a play. He took a sack, he took a hard hit. We came out with a big play call; give Coach (offensive coordinator Eric Becker) credit for that. Nick threw me up a ball I caught it and scored.”
The Tigers led 28-6 entering the final quarter before Fairfield Prep began to rally. Senior Nick Crowle scored on two short touchdown runs and caught a two-point conversion pass from junior Colton Smith to cut the Hand lead to 28-20 with 8:08 remaining.
After van Dell’s long touchdown pass to Wilson, the Jesuits again responded when Smith connected with Jake Buckley on a 9-yard touchdown pass. The Jesuits, though, couldn’t stop Hand on a third down on the Tigers’ 35 and Hand proceeded to run out the clock.
Two first-half turnovers, in addition to a breakdown on special teams, proved costly for Fairfield Prep.
“They scored 14 points without their offense being on the field,” Fairfield Prep coach Tom Shea said. “We played a great second half, but a miserable first half and the misery trumped the goodness and we lost the game.”
The Jesuits fumbled on the game’s third play and Hand’s Dan Rogers returned it for a 25-yard touchdown. On the next drive, Smith scored on a 3-yard run, but the extra point was no good and Hand led 7-6.
Wilson then returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown. Conor Dowd scored on a 6-yard run and Wilson caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from van Dell in the second quarter to give the Tigers a 28-6 lead at halftime.
Wilson made seven receptions for 177 yards and two scores.
“Extraordinary football player,” Filippone said about Wilson. “Great courage and heart, tremendous athletic ability as well. He’s a great, great football player.”
Hand 35, Fairfield Prep 27
Fair. Prep 6 0 0 21 — 27
Hand 14 14 0 7 — 35
H—Dan Rogers 25 fumb ret (Tyler Phan kick)
F—Colton Smith 3 run (kick failed)
H—Tom Wilson 85 kickoff ret (Phan kick)
H—Conor Dowd 6 run (Phan kick)
H—Tom Wilson 25 pass from Nick Van Dell (Phan kick)
F—Nick Crowle 2 run (pass failed)
F—Nick Crowle 1 run (Crowle pass from Smith)
H—Tom Wilson 76 pass from Nick Van Dell (Phan kick)
F—Jake Buckley 9 pass from Colton Smith (Sean Morrison kick)
Team records: Hand 5-1; Fairfield Prep 4-2