MADISON >> Xavier knew the uphill battle it faced against host Hand at the Surf Club, where few opponents leave victorious.
The Falcons, essentially playing a postseason elimination game, put the ball in the hands of quarterback Joe Carbone and running back Andrew Meoli in the second half after playing to a 7-7 tie at halftime.
The duo, behind a physical offensive line, responded and carried the Falcons to a rare victory on the Tigers’ home field. Carbone and Meoli, both seniors, combined to rush for 349 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-14 Southern Connecticut Conference Division I victory Friday.
“We wanted to get a little physical with them,” Carbone said. “Our offensive line did a great job; credit to them, they did all the work.”
The loss snapped a six-game winning streak by Hand (6-2), which lost its season opener to New Canaan. The Tigers hadn’t lost at home since Oct. 30, 2009, when Notre Dame-West Haven emerged with a 28-14 victory.
Xavier (6-2) earned a bit of revenge on Hand after the Tigers snapped the Falcons’ 30-game winning streak last season.
“We definitely had an extra chip on our shoulder tonight with that happening last year,” said Meoli, who rushed 31 times for 143 yards.
“We really wanted to make a statement with this game that last year wasn’t going to happen again.”
Xavier, the three-time defending Class LL champion, now sits in ninth place in the playoff rankings with games remaining against Shelton and Fairfield Prep. The top eight teams qualify for the playoffs.
“It’s win or go home, basically,” Meoli said. “If we lose, that’s our last meaningful game as seniors of high school football, so we’re definitely playing with an extra chip on our shoulders.”
Meoli’s 4-yard touchdown run gave Xavier a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. The Tigers responded on a 12-yard run from senior Conor Dowd (21 carries, 99 yards) to tie the game.
Just seconds into the third quarter, Carbone connected with senior Nate Gonzalez on a 64-yard touchdown pass, Carbone’s only pass attempt of the second half, to put the Falcons up 14-7.
Gonzalez, though, was called for a personal foul on the play — his second of the game — and was ejected. Under CIAC rules, a player who gets ejected must sit the following game. Gonzalez was flagged for excessive celebration after pointing to the Xavier faithful sitting in the stands behind the end zone. Xavier coach Sean Marinan hopes they can appeal.
“He was pointing at our crowd, not their crowd,” Marinan said. “The kid just ran for a touchdown, he’s excited; he’s a kid. Hopefully, rational people will sort it out, I hope.”
Carbone scored on an 85-yard touchdown run to put his team up 21-7 with just over nine minutes remaining in the third quarter. Later in that quarter, Hand quarterback Nick van Dell tossed an 8-yard touchdown pass to Tom Wilson to cut the lead to 21-14. Meoli added the game’s final touchdown on a 2-yard run in the fourth quarter. Carbone finished with 206 yards on 27 carries.
Gonzalez, Cole Thorburn and Edwin Luster each had interceptions for Xavier. Noah Cruz scampered five yards for a first down on a fake punt at the Falcons’ 25 with under two minutes remaining to seal the victory.
Van Dell completed 15 of 32 passes for 205 yards, but was picked off three times. Hand, which has won twice this season on field goals in the closing seconds, didn’t have an answer for Xavier and its potent running game.
“We have been living — and I’ve told you guys — on magic, in one form or another,” Hand coach Steve Filippone said. “We got a lot of recognition for winning a lot of games, but we were doing it, basically, with smoke and mirrors, and we’ve been doing it with smoke and mirrors the whole year and, tonight, the smoke and the mirrors didn’t work.”
Xavier 28, Hand 14
Xavier 0 7 14 7 — 28
Hand 0 7 7 0 — 14
X—Andrew Meoli 4 run (Ricky Verre kick)
H—Conor Dowd 12 run (Tyler Phan kick)
X—Nate Gonzalez 64 pass from Joe Carbone (Verre kick)
X—Joe Carbone 85 run (Verre kick)
H—Tom Wilson 8 pass from Nick Van Dell (Phan kick)
X—Andrew Meoli 2 run (Verre kick)