WEST HAVEN >> Ervin Philips has vivid memories of the last time his Westies played Hand a season ago. A two-point conversion attempt sailed off of Philips’ fingertips in the final moments and the Westies fell to the Tigers by one point.
Philips needed all of one play to make sure the Westies did not feel the same way when walking off the field this season as he raced for a 64-yard touchdown on the first play of the game. West Haven went on to a 46-35 victory over the Tigers in a Southern Connecticut Conference Division I East battle at Ken Strong Stadium.
With the victory, West Haven improved to 8-1 and clinched the division title with a 4-0 record. Hand, which took a serious hit to its playoff hopes, falls to 6-3 and 2-1 in the division.
“All summer we worked hard for these games,” Philips said. “We lost by one point. We used that as motivation. We wanted to beat these two teams (Hand and Xavier) that we hadn’t beaten. We worked hard to do that.
“I just wanted to carry the team on my back. I just wanted to respond and make big plays. The offensive line did a great job opening holes.”
Philips, who also recovered an onside kick and a Hand fumble in the end zone, ran for 267 yards and five touchdowns on 26 carries. The senior star ran for 162 yards in the first half and was almost as good in the second half, scoring on runs of 11, 27 and 4 yards.
“How good is he?” West Haven coach Ed McCarthy asked. “He recovered an onside kick and a fumble and does what he does running the ball. He is the best player in the state.
“This is a great win for us. We pointed to this game all summer. They had us on our heels with their tempo, but we were able to hang on. They are a good team and are going to be very good.”
The Tigers came out ready to play in the second half and scored on the opening possession when Conor Dowd scored from 16 yards out. West Haven needed just five plays to respond as Philips gave West Haven a 26-14 lead with an 11-yard run.
The Tigers fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the momentum was back with the Westies as Philips scored on the next play from 27 yards out with 7:03 left in the third for a 33-14 lead.
“We did not tackle well,” Hand coach Steve Filippone said. “We did not tackle well because they have some of the best backs in the state. Erv is the best back in the state and that is no offense to Arkeel Newsome. He is in a class with him and (Harold) Cooper. He is the best back for what he does for his team.”
Philips’ fifth score increased the lead to 40-14 before the Tigers used an 8-yard scoring strike from Nick van Dell to Tom Wilson and a 3-yard run by van Dell to get within 46-27.
“We are a very young team,” Filippone said. “We have six sophomores starting. We are still learning. These games will help us grow for the future.”
After van Dell evened the game at 7 in the opening quarter with a 6-yard run to cap a 9-play, 85-yard drive, Philips again had an answer.
His 30-yard run off tackle capped a 5-play, 65-yard drive with 2:59 remaining in the first quarter. The Westies missed the extra point, keeping the lead at 13-7.
West Haven increased the lead to 19-7 with 4:03 remaining in the first half. Quarterback Duane Gary, who rushed for 126 yards, capped a 15-play drive, which saw a 17-yard run by Anton Graham, with a 2-yard score. Philips was denied on the conversion, keeping the West Haven lead at 12.
Van Dell finished the game throwing for 221 yards.
West Haven 46, Hand 35
(at West Haven)
Hand 7 0 6 22 0 — 35
West Haven 13 6 21 6 0 — 46
W—Ervin Philips 64 run (Tayvon Gibbs Kick)
H—Nick Van Dell 6 run (Tyler Phan Kick)
W—Ervin Philips 30 run (Kick Failed)
W—Duane Gary 16 run (Run failed)
H—Conor Dowd 16 run (Phan Kick)
W—Ervin Philips 11 run (Tayvon Gibbs kick)
W—Ervin Philips 27 run (Tayvon Gibbs kick)
W—Ervin Philips 4 run (Tayvon Gibbs kick)
H—Tom Wilson 15 pass from Nick Van Dell (Run failed)
W—Duane Gary 47 run (Kick failed)
H—Nick Van Dell 3 run (Tyler Phan Kick)
H—Conor Dowd 1 run (Van Dell to Tom Wilson pass)
Team records: West Haven 8-1; Hand 6-3