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Phoenix Billings tossed four touchdown passes to lead the Hand football team to a 61-6 win in Guilford on the night before Thanksgiving. The Tigers recorded their second-straight undefeated regular season by going 10-0 this fall. Also pictured is No. 65, Sander Coscia. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Jesse Lutz ran for 124 yards and two TDs when the Tigers beat Guilford in their regular-season finale. Hand now gears up to try and win its third-consecutive Class L state championship. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Ethan Haberman caught a pair of touchdown passes to help the Hand football squad beat Guilford by a 61-6 score on Nov. 27. The Tigers improved their all-time record against Guilford to 41-5-1 with the win. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
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The Hand football team completed its second-straight undefeated regular season and gave itself a good tune-up for the Class L State Playoffs by posting a 61-6 road win versus Guilford on Thanksgiving Eve. Senior quarterback Phoenix Billings threw four touchdown passes, while fellow seniors Colin McCabe, Jesse Lutz, and Ethan Haberman all scored two TDs to help the Tigers rout the Indians at Kavanaugh Field on Nov. 27.
Hand finished with a record of 10-0 for the regular season and has won 34 games in a row. The Tigers will now get ready to try and claim their third-straight Class L state title, beginning with a quarterfinal contest against Newington this week.
“We certainly executed well in every facet of our game tonight. It should give us the momentum we need heading for the playoffs,” Head Coach Dave Mastroianni said. “We treated this like a business trip. Tonight was much more about execution and continuing to do what we’ve done all season long. It’s always a good sign late in the season when you can rest your starters early and get some of your younger, less-experienced kids some playing time.”
Hand put up 34 points in the first quarter and then scored 21 points in the second to take a 55-0 lead into halftime versus Guilford. With the victory, the Tigers increased their all-time lead in their Thanksgiving series with the Indians to 41-5-1.
Hand’s offense got rolling quickly as Billings fired a 64-yard touchdown pass McCabe less than two minutes into the game. Before the quarter was finished, McCabe scored on touchdowns runs of 38 and 48 yards for the Tigers, who also saw Billings connect on an 11-yard TD pass to Haberman and a 39-yard scoring strike to Isaiah McNeilly, a senior. McNeilly converted on four of his five extra-point kicks during the period.
Lutz took center stage in the second quarter by rushing for a 23-yard touchdown and a 1-yard TD. Billings threw his fourth score of the game when he found Haberman for a 23-yard touchdown pass later in the frame. McNeilly hit on three more extra points to send Hand to the locker room with a 55-0 advantage.
In the third quarter, sophomore Ethan O’Brien capped off the Tigers’ big night by taking home a 37-yard touchdown rush. Guilford scored its only touchdown of the game during the fourth quarter.
Billings went 5-of-9 passing for 132 yards with four touchdowns and also gained 53 yards on three carries in the victory. Lutz ran the ball seven times for 124 yards and two touchdowns, while McCabe had four carries for 104 yards and two TDs.
On the defensive side of the ball, senior Kevin Nizolek (1.5), senior Joseph Sandora (1), and junior Tom Bambrick (0.5) all recorded a sack for the Tigers. Nizolek also made seven tackles on the night.
Hand, which outscored its opponents by a 457-72 differential during the regular season, will open the postseason by hosting Newington for a quarterfinal game in the Class L State Playoffs at the Surf Club at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 4. The Tigers are the No. 2 seed in the tournament, and Newington (7-3) is the No. 7 seed.
"I'm sure that they had somebody here scouting us tonight," Coach Mastroianni said of Newington. "So, we'll have to put a few new wrinkles into our offense. Change things up a bit, but not too much."
If Hand beats Newington, it will host the winner of No. 3 seed Maloney (9-1) and No. 6 Berlin (8-2) in the semifinals on Monday, Dec. 9 at 6:30 p.m. The Class L state final takes place on Saturday, Dec. 14. On the other side of the bracket, No. 1 seed St. Joseph (10-0) is playing No. 8 Wilton (7-3) in one of the quarterfinal games, while No. 4 New Canaan (8-2) will face No. 5 Wethersfield (8-2) in the other quarterfinal matchup.
Coach Mastroianni was proud of team for going undefeated in the regular season. However, he knows that the Tigers have to play their best football of the year in the playoffs if they want to capture their third-straight state crown.
“You never know in the postseason. You have to develop a completely different attitude and mindset,” said Mastroianni. “I think we’ve gotten past the Shelton game [a 21-14 win on Nov. 15], where our execution was very poor. We lost three fumbles and nearly gave up the ball late in the game. A turnover there with less than two minutes to play and us trailing 14-13 would’ve cost us the game.”
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