Hand upset North Haven Friday night. At least we think it was an upset. We looked at the teams and the rankings and most of us (me included) determined that the Indians would beat the Tigers, I thought fairly handily. How do I determine such things? Well, previous results for starters.
Most of you know what happened to Hand on the opening week of the season, as they got blasted by New Canaan. No huge shame in that, even if it did break a 26-game winning streak that spanned two state championship campaigns. But when you get beaten as badly as the Tigers did, it was hard to see them competing against the best the SCC had to offer.
And, with much more disagreement than I thought there should be, North Haven was the SCC’s best heading into the Surf Club Friday. They had not only disposed of three-time defending state champion Xavier, but outplayed them, dominating the line of scrimmage to the tune of 42 points and 330 yards on the ground. It was hard to get a read on the Indians’ other two games (blowouts of Bridgeport Central and East Haven), but when you looked at the raw data, it was hard not to believe North Haven would dominate.
New Canaan had done damage pretty much everywhere, but the majority of it was on the ground, running for 311 yards with the number surely being higher had the Rams left their starters in past the early portion of the second half.
Perhaps more disturbing when trying to analyze the Hand defense was what happened to them in the next two weeks. They concluded a stellar comeback to get by Hillhouse, but still gave up 374 yards rushing to the Acs. Obviously, having Harold Cooper helps, but Corey Maddox also ran for 136 yards as Hillhouse averaged nearly 10 yards per carry.
Again last week, Hand struggled to put away Wilbur Cross, and another underrated New Haven running back, Stevie Swinson, who had 160 yards. It wasn’t until Hand went more to the air in the second half that they were finally able to put away the feisty Governors, who had previously beaten Jonathan Law in overtime the week before.
Meanwhile, North Haven’s single-wing physicality was unstoppable, surely not by a team that had all kinds of trouble at the line of scrimmage in the first three weeks of the campaign.
Of course, Hand knew this as well going in: “If we come out sitting on our heels, we will get beat to a pulp,” Hand coach Steve Filippone said. “It will be scary. But if we come out and play, we have a shot. We always have a chance if we play hard with these kids.”
There was also something called intangibles going for the Tigers.
As analysts and prognosticators, we’re not quite sure what to make of those. They’re scary more than anything, to be honest. Hand had won 21 straight games at their beloved Surf Club coming into Friday night, a streak that dated back all the way to Halloween of 2009 when Notre Dame beat Hand on its way to a Class L state title. Even that day, a Tigers team that would end up going just 5-5 gave the Green Knights fits, grabbing a 14-0 lead before ND and quarterback Sean Goldrich took over in the second half.
It had to be a little bit intimidating for the Indians, but how do we put that into something tangible? By the same token, how do we deal with history, in this case a dominating one by Hand over North Haven. Us old-timers may remember that Hand and North Haven used to be members of the same clan, the Hammonasset Division family and as such saw each other every season. Hand’s victory Friday night was its 15th in 16 meetings with North Haven as members of the SCC, and perhaps more importantly, its eighth straight, even as the Indians have ascended into the role of an SCC power and perennial playoff contender.
Can the venue and history of the teams play a role in the outcome even when the kids are completely different from the previous contests? How is that possible? Coaches may downplay such voodoo, but the circumstantial (and in this case, empirical) evidence is sometimes hard to ignore.
In the end, Hand didn’t exactly dominate the line of scrimmage, but it more than held its own. And when North Haven tried to go to the air, it failed rather miserably, completing only 1-of-13 passes and throwing the dreaded Pick-Six that allowed the Tigers to take a 14-0 lead that it never came very close to relinquishing. Just as it has been in the last few years with Hand, there were no big plays from North Haven, very few missed tackles, no mistakes. And when the other team made its errors, Hand pounced.
Numbers help us understand games, but they often don’t tell the entire story, particularly in football.
Quarterbacks that throw for 400 yards are often those whose team fell behind early and had to pass on every down against a defense that allowed short gains to prevent big plays. Running backs that put up big numbers sometimes do it on a couple of large carries and are held in check the rest of the evening.
Of course, the next big question is what will happen to these two teams the rest of the way? Is North Haven vulnerable? Is Hand back? I can tell you what the numbers say, but the best way to find out is probably just to wait and enjoy the ride.
SAME OLD STORY
Among the other phenomenons that are tough to explain are (like North Haven against Hand), some teams just seem to have more trouble against certain other schools year in and year out. On paper, Cheshire shouldn’t have seemed to have much trouble with neighboring Sheehan, which had been blown out in two consecutive games by Amity and Foran.
But the Rams were lucky, very lucky to escape Wallingford with a 28-27 win in overtime on a blocked extra point in a contest that they were outgained by more than 100 yards.
“Historically, you go back to whenever, it’s always a war when we come here,” Cheshire coach Don Drust told the Meriden Record-Journal. “I tried to tell my kids, ‘Don’t look at records, don’t look at scores. When we come here, it’s going to be a battle.’ ”
But why, I ask?
Meanwhile, in Guilford, you may remember that the Indians raced to a 14-0 lead last year against heavily-favored West Haven before the Westies came back to win 40-28. With playoff aspirations again this season and a lot of the same cast of characters, you would think that the Blue Devils would have learned their lesson when they made the same bus ride Friday night.
Halftime score: Guilford 14, West Haven 7.
Of course, the Westies responded with 35 unanswered points to prevail rather easily in the end, and Guilford’s option can be tricky if you don’t see it very often, but the mystery of why School A will always have trouble with School B remains.
Cheshire-Sheehan wasn’t the only overtime game in the SCC this week, marking the first time since overtime was instituted state-wide in 2008 that there have been multiple overtime games in the conference. Notre Dame, without Cameran Tucker, stormed back from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to tie Ridgefield 21-21, only to fall in overtime. Still, it might be enough to worry rival West Haven this week, especially if Tucker is healthy on Friday night… Shelton is now the only undefeated team remaining in the SCC, but it was made to work a little to beat Foran 35-14 in Milford. The game was 7-7 in the second quarter before the Gaels scored on a blocked punt and went on to score 28 unanswered points. Jake Kasuba threw for 307 yards, although he did have three interceptions… Shelton’s opponent this week, Fairfield Prep, held Branford to 85 total yards, most of those coming with the game already decided in a 32-6 win that was 32-0 at the half… Xavier coach Sean Marinan almost got through his postgame comments without using the word “sloppy”, but he still mentioned it in Xavier’s 42-14 win over Hillhouse. Thankfully for the Falcons, they didn’t need a repeat of last season, when they trailed by 28 points after three quarters. Harold Cooper still managed 113 yards on 12 carries. There are tougher days ahead for the Falcons… If you haven’t yet, follow me on Twitter at currenscc.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Stevie Swinson, Wilbur Cross — Swinson carried 26 times for 249 yards as Wilbur Cross blanked East Haven, 24-0 for its second win of the season. Swinson’s statistics have improved as the season has progressed. Overall he has run for nearly 600 yards in four games, averaging nearly 8 yards per carry. The Governors will need him as they play Division I teams the rest of the way with the exception of Hillhouse on Thanksgiving.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Number of Division II teams that won last week, meaning that (until Thanksgiving at least), Division II will finish the 2013 season with a whopping record of 1-17 in crossover games, with the lone win coming at the expense of three-time defending state champion Xavier (North Haven). So much for that parity talk, I guess, huh?
GAME OF THE WEEK
Fairfield Prep at Shelton, Friday, 7 p.m. — It’s been a while since we’ve seen Finn Stadium rocking like it did in the old days (with mud instead of artificial turf), maybe way back in 2007, when Ryan Nolan led Fairfield Prep in and the Gaels prevailed. It’s hard to understate the importance of this game on the Class LL playoff race, the winner (especially if it’s Shelton) can breathe ever so slightly, for the loser, it’s already going to be an uphill climb to jump back in. Prep destroyed Shelton last season.
- 1. Shelton (4-0; Last Week 2)—Will be a more convincing No. 1 if Gaels can take care of Prep this week.
- 2. Xavier (3-1; LW 3)—May not be as dominant as they’ve been in last couple of seasons, but not going anywhere.
- 3. Fairfield Prep (3-1; LW 4)—Jesuits didn’t pass St. Joe test with flying colors, now ready for another exam.
- 4. Hand (3-1; LW 6)—Still some questions about Tigers going forward, but no doubt about them being this high.
- 5. North Haven (3-1; LW 1)—Will be happy not to see the Surf Club for a while. Like possibly a decade or so.
- 6. West Haven (3-1; LW 5)—Still chugging along, but haven’t exactly beat any of the top teams as of yet.
- 7. Hillhouse (1-3; LW 7)—The worst of Acs’ scheduling nightmare to start season is over, can they run table?
- 8. Hamden (3-1; LW 10)—Favorable schedule the next few weeks may see Dragons hang around a while.
- 9. Amity (3-1; LW 9)—Not the toughest schedule rest of the way, but business is about to pick up a little bit.
- 10. Notre Dame (1-3; LW 13)—Would have been a very nice win for them to beat Ridgefield, now face Westies.
- 11. Foran (2-2; LW 11)—We’ll see what Lions can do against heart of D-II schedule. Putting up yards, not points.
- 12. Guilford (1-3; LW 12)—Done with Division I schedule, and would probably still like that Wilton game back.
- 13. Cheshire (2-2; LW 8)—Could be a tough road ahead for Rams if they don’t get a little better quickly.
- 14. Wilbur Cross (2-2; LW 14)—Swinson has been a revelation for Govs, who might just have a shot this week.
- 15. Sheehan (1-3; LW 15)—Will move up the ladder if they can play like Friday, but need a little consistency.
- 16. Jonathan Law (0-4; LW 17)—Would really like to get on the board against East Haven this Friday.
- 17. East Haven (1-3; LW 16)—Been shut out twice and have only eight points in first half this season.
- 18. Branford (0-4; LW 18)—To be fair, schedule has been pretty brutal. Also, not getting any easier soon.
- 19. Lyman Hall (0-4; LW 19)—Game against Hillhouse is Thursday afternoon at Cross if anyone is bored.