Hand, the two-time defending Class L champion, is well aware of the task at hand (no pun intended) entering its final regular season contest against rival Guilford on Nov. 27.
Quite simply, it’s win or pack the gear up for a long winter.
The Tigers (7-3), currently ranked ninth in the Class L playoff ratings, need a victory over the Indians to stay in contention for a postseason bid. The top eight teams advance to the quarterfinals.
With a victory over Guilford, Hand is in good shape to outpoint some teams ahead of it in the standings (Farmington, Bristol Eastern) even if those teams win their remaining games. The Tigers would also benefit from losses by Naugatuck (plays Ansonia on Thanksgiving) and New London (plays Norwich Free Academy).
“I’m not a mathematician,” Hand coach Steve Filippone said. “I know our assistant coaches have spent days cracking numbers, but it doesn’t mean anything if we don’t win.”
A postseason berth for Hand won’t be the only thing decided when the teams kickoff next Wednesday night at 7. Guilford hasn’t defeated the Tigers since 2006 and has won just five games since the series began in 1973. The Indians (5-5) will also attempt to finish the season with a winning record. Both teams have a bye this week.
“The bottom line is: we’re playing a formidable opponent who as a lot on the line as well — it’s for a winning season and knocking their rival out of the playoffs,” Filippone said about Guilford. “They are highly competitive and well-coached. I am very happy we have nine days to prepare for a very good option team.”
After a disastrous start to the season, in which Hand lost 50-21 to No. 1 New Canaan, the Tigers reeled off six straight wins, including victories over North Haven, Fairfield Prep and Shelton. Hand has since lost two of its last three, but those earlier victories allowed the Tigers to accumulate precious playoff points.
Despite losing 30 seniors to graduation, the Tigers are once again on the cusp of reaching the postseason. Filippone says this year’s edition has been a pleasant surprise.
“It would be amazing (to make the playoffs),” Filippone said. “To be 7-3 and have the potential to be 8-3 and to make the playoffs is just a dream season for our kids and our coaching staff. The expectations weren’t very high this year, but they have exceeded the expectations, and I hope they continue to exceed the expectations. It’s a testament to our kids, our coaches and our whole program.”
The following teams have qualified for the quarterfinals, to be contested on Dec. 3 at the site of the higher seed. Teams in bold have clinched a home quarterfinal game:
Class LL >> Newtown, West Haven, NFA, Glastonbury.
Class L >> New Canaan, Platt.
Class M >> Valley Regional/Old Lyme, St. Joseph, Brookfield.
Class S >> Capital Prep/Classical Magnet/Achievement First, Ansonia, Prince Tech, Woodland, Rocky Hill.
Playing for pride
Although mathematically still alive for a Class S playoff berth, North Branford (5-4), in all likelihood, will not be making a return trip to the playoffs.
Still, the Thunderbirds, who lost to Ansonia in the Class S championship game last season, have meaningful games remaining against rivals Cromwell (Friday) and Hyde (Nov. 27).
Cromwell (4-5), like North Branford, has been in rebuilding mode this season but remains a dangerous team.
The Panthers are led by sophomore quarterback Mavric Pelletier, who’s a threat to both run and pass.
“Their offense revolves around their QB, who can run, and he can pass the ball, too,” North Branford coach Mark Basil said. “Their offensive line is not like it’s been in the past. I think we have some guys up front that can control the line of scrimmage.”
Despite losing almost every skill player to graduation, North Branford started well, winning its first four games. It has since lost four of five. Inexperience and injuries have been the main factor in the team’s recent struggles.
“We’re thin,” Basil said. “When we lose a couple of kids, it changes what we want to do.”
The Thunderbirds may be without junior quarterback Eddie Miller, who suffered a concussion on the second series of North Branford’s loss to Coginchaug last week.
“He went back to the doctors on Monday (yesterday),” Basil said. “This weekend we observed him for symptoms, but we’re going to leave it up to the doctors.”
Sophomore Paul Pastet entered in place of Miller and completed 7 of 14 passes for 149 yards with one touchdowns and one interception. Pastet also ran for 43 yards.
“He’s a young kid,” Basil said. “He’s good, but our game plan went in a totally different direction, we had to totally change what we do; we had to go to basic stuff. At halftime we were able to coach him up a bit, but he just didn’t get enough reps in during the week.”
Senior captains Josh Melaccio and John Burke have provided leadership and stability through some trying times.
“He’s (Burke) a great captain; great leader,” Basil said. “He anchors both sides of the ball. He’s the heart and soul of the team.”
North Branford has started several sophomores and juniors at key positions this season, which should bode well for the future.
“I’m hoping the lessons learned will carry over and make them mentally tough next season,” Basil said.