MADISON >> Coming off an exhausting victory over Xavier less than a week earlier, coach Jeff Roy and his Shelton Gaels wanted to get off to a quick start against Hand. A long touchdown on the first play of the game certainly did the trick.
Scoring on a 70-yard pass play, the Gaels never looked back in a 34-20 Southern Connecticut Conference Tier I victory over the Tigers at the Surf Club in Madison Friday evening.
The Gaels, the third-ranked team in the Register/GameTimeCT top 10 poll, struck quickly, scoring on the first play of the game when quarterback David Wells connected with Santino Durante on a quick slant. Durante did the rest, going 70 yards for the score just 16 seconds into the game for a 7-0 advantage.
“That first play was certainly big,” Shelton coach Jeff Roy said after his team improved to 5-0. “I told the kids all week I did not care about their (Hand) record. They would come out ready to play and they certainly did. We made some big plays.”
Shelton went three-and-out on their next two possessions, but scored on the fourth to take a 14-0 lead. Following an interception and return to the Hand 10 by lineman Eddie Radzion, Wells hits Anthony Schiavo in the left corner of the endzone two plays later to start the second quarter with a 14-0 lead.
Hand, which started with sophomore Joseph Ciotti at quarterback then switched to senior Brett Bilcheck behind center, used the running and passing of Bilcheck to go 80 yards in 12 plays, cutting the deficit to 14-6 with 6:20 left in the first half.
Bilcheck had a pass of 18 yards and four runs for 27 yards to set the Tigers up at the 3-yard line of Shelton. Mike Burchell capped the scoring drive with a 3-yard score, but the extra point was blocked, keeping the Gaels on top by eight heading to the half.
“He (Bilcheck) showed what he is capable of doing,” Hand coach Steve Filippone said after his team fell to 1-4 with the loss. “He was certainly going to be a big part of our offense tonight. He is so special.”
Bilcheck scored on a 13-yard run on Hand’s opening possession of the second half, but the two-point conversion failed and Hand never got closer.
Shelton ran off the next 17 points, but an even bigger factor in the game came with the Gaels up 21-12 following Ronnie Rich’s one-yard score.
After completing an 11-yard run, Bilcheck left the game with an undisclosed injury and never returned. Without the threat of Bilcheck at either the quarterback or receiver position, Shelton came firing on defense.
“I thought our defense played well tonight,” Roy said. “We had some big stops when we needed them.”
Hand could not get going offensively and Shelton answered with a 10-yard touchdown run by Jack Carr for a 28-12 advantage with 1:26 left in the third.
“We made some big plays,” Roy said of his team’s offense. “We were able to get going in the second half.”
Joe Zoppi, who also hit a late field goal from 35 yards, added a 19-yard field goal 3:55 into the fourth, giving Shelton a 19-point lead. Burchell capped the Hand scoring with 4:38 left with a 1-yard score, but it was not enough in the loss.
“I thought we made some stops, but they also made some big plays,” Filippone said. “I thought we played much better than last week.”
Shelton 34, Hand 20
Shelton 7 7 14 6 0 — 34
Hand 0 6 6 8 0 — 20
S—Santino Durante 70 pass from David Wells (Joe Zoppi kick)
S—Anthony Schiavo 14 pass from David Wells (Zoppi kick)
H—Mike Burchell 3 run (Kick failed)
H—Brett Bilcheck 13 run (Pass failed)
S—Ronnie Rich 1 run (Zoppi kick)
S—Jack Carr 10 run (Zoppi kick)
S—Joe Zoppi 19 FG
H—Mike Burchell 1 run (Joe Ciotti pass to Mike Tarantino)
S—Joe Zoppi 35 FG
Team records: Hand 1-4; Shelton 5-0