MADISON — After a lackluster first 23-plus minutes, Hand football coach Steve Filippone wanted to make sure his Tigers were able to get a field goal try just before halftime.
But assistant coach Eric Becker had other ideas. He called for the lateral play off a pass from the 15-yard line with 11 seconds remaining in the half and no timeouts.
“We were ready to settle for three, but Eric has that play in his quiver and he was calling it,” Filippone. “I told him we need to score or get out of bounds or we’ll never get the kicking team on the field. He said we would get out of bounds, so I told him to go ahead and do it.”
The play worked perfectly as sophomore quarterback Nick Van Dell (13-of-20 passing for 267 yards and three touchdowns) threw a short pass to Josh DeMartino, who lateralled the ball to Tom Wilson at the 10-yard line. Wilson was able to get in the end zone to give Hand a 14-7 lead en route to a 35-19 triumph over Wilbur Cross Friday night in the first game played on the new Strong Center turf field at the Surf Club.
“We were looking for a lift,” Filippone said. “It’s a young team that doesn’t know how to win yet. We’re looking for something big to happen. We need to be in charge instead of waiting for events to come to us. That will only come with age.”
Hand (2-1) kept its momentum after the intermission as Conor Dowd (13 carries for 113 yards) raced 58 yards for a touchdown on the third play from scrimmage in the third quarter to make it 21-7.
“We’re more of a second-half team,” said Dowd, who opened the scoring with a 2-yard run in the first quarter. “That lateral got us going. Some of us came out and thought it would be an easy game. They gave us a good fight, but we came out and got the W.”
Just a few minutes later, after Sammy Katz picked off a pass in Hand territory, the Tigers Van Dell needed just two plays before he connected with Tim D’Annolfo on a 68-yard touchdown pass that broke it open at 28-7. Van Dell hooked up with Jake Mirando later in the quarter for a 52-yard touchdown. Tyler Phan added the fifth of his five extra points to make it 35-7.
“We could have played smarter and that was the problem,” Cross coach John Acquavita said. “We made a few mistakes and that comes back to haunt you against a team that doesn’t make many mistakes.”
Cross scored twice in the fourth quarter as Steve Swinson, who rushed for rushed for 163 yards in 25 carries, scampered into the end zone from 20 yards out. Backup quarterback A.J. Consiglio connected with Tyvon Bradley for a 25-yard touchdown pass to complete the scoring.
Hand will host 12-ranked and climbing North Haven next week at Strong Field.
“New Canaan (a 50-21 loss on Sept. 11) really put things in perspective for us,” Dowd said. “We know we’re not the No. 1 team in the state anymore and we have to work hard.”