SHELTON >> This one had a little of everything: lights going out on the field, seemingly non-stop scoring, long passes, long runs, long kick returns and, rarest of all, a Tyler Phan missed extra point.
Phan more than atoned for his first missed extra point in two seasons, however, by kicking a 29-yard field goal with 24 seconds remaining to give Hand a thrilling 44-41 victory over Shelton.
“I had a rough rest of the game, pretty much,” said Phan, a junior. “My kickoffs were bad, and my extra point, I lifted my head up too early and you saw what happened. That was bad. But my coach had faith in me, my team had faith in me. Great hold on that, little bit of a low snap, and great blocking. I just did my job.”
Naturally, the game wasn’t over after Phan’s kick had sailed through the uprights. Shelton quarterback Mark Piccirillo connected on consecutive passes to bring the ball to the Hand 24 with one second left. Eschewing a long field goal attempt, the Gaels went for the win, and Piccirillo’s pass in the end zone was picked off by Kyle Freiman to finally put an end to a game that, indeed, had a little of everything.
“A lot of everything,” joyous Tiger coach Steve Filippone said afterwards. “This was a tremendously exciting game between two very good football teams. … They exploited us. Jeff (Roy) and his coaching staff did a magnificent job, but our offense answered every call. You score, we score, you score, we score. They get it with 30 seconds left, and the ball’s in the end zone on the last play of the game. God bless America.”
Hand improved to 6-1 while Shelton fell to 5-2.
“It was a great high school football game,” Shelton coach Jeff Roy said. “We just got the short end of the stick again. …Like the Fairfield Prep game a few weeks ago, these games come down to a few plays. You make the plays, you win. You don’t, you lose. We didn’t make the plays.”
No doubt, it appeared the last team with the ball would win as both offenses charged up and down the field for most of the night. The only break in the action came late in the first half, shortly after Shelton’s Mike Pingree returned a kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown to give the Gaels a 28-21 lead. A bay of lights on the home side of the field suddenly went out, with sparks shooting out of them at one point. A few moments later, another bay of lights on the opposite side of the field also went out, and the game was delayed.
Eventually, the lights on the visitors’ side came back on, but the other lights remained off. Play resumed anyway, and the action picked right back up as Hand quarterback Nick van Dell (19-for-28, 209 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) capped a seven-play, 65-yard scoring drive with a one-yard run to tie the game at 28.
The shootout continued in the latter half. Shelton snapped a 35-35 tie early in the fourth quarter when Pingree scampered in from 1 yard out. However, kicker John Zoppi, who had connected on his first five extra-point attempts, missed on this one.
Led by the running of Conor Dowd (124 yards on 20 carries), Hand took the ball downfield 56 yards in 15 plays to set up a 4th-and-goal from the Shelton 3.
Van Dell rolled right and had nothing, backtracked some 10 yards and found Jake Mirando in the end zone for the game-tying score with 3:45 to play.
“We practice that every day, scramble routes,” Filippone said. “When he’s scrambling, where do you go? Nicky knew there’d be a guy in the corner of the end zone, he threw it there, and the rest is history.”
Said Roy, “That play, we had him. The kid got out of there with four guys on him. You got to make that play. You make that play, we win the game.”
Phan, however, mssed the extra point. But Shelton went three-and-out, and Hand got one more chance. Dowd started off the drive with a 36-yard rumble, and after van Dell’s pass on 3rd-and-8 from the Shelton 11 fell incomplete, Phan was summoned for the key field goal.
This time, Phan — who has hit from 55 yards in practice and from 32 in a game last year — came through.
“I’m glad Nicky and the offense were able to bring the ball back down the field, drive back down and do the job, get me in position to kick it,” Phan said.
Added Filippone: “Kids are kids, you never know. He did what he had to do for us, when he had to.”
Hand 44, Shelton 41
Hand 7 21 7 9 0 — 44
Shelton 14 14 7 6 0 — 41
H—Tom Wilson 64 pass from Nick Van Dell (Tyler Phan kick)
S—Mark Piccirillo 1 run (John Zoppi kick)
S—Jason Thompson 6 run (Zoppi kick)Second quarter
H—Conor Dowd 20 run (Phan kick)
S—Jason Thompson 35 pass from Mark Piccirillo (Zoppi kick)
H—Nick Van Dell 24 run (Phan kick)
S—Mike Pingree 82 kickoff ret (Zoppi kick)
H—Nick Van Dell 1 run (Phan kick)Third quarter
H—Josh DeMartino 16 pass from Nick Van Dell (Phan kick)
S—Mike Pingree 12 run (Zoppi kick)Fourth quarter
S—Mike Pingree 1 run (kick failed)
H—Jacob Mirando 3 pass from Nick Van Dell (kick failed)
H—Tyler Phan 29 field goal
Team records: Shelton 5-2; Hand 6-1