NEW BRITAIN, December 8 – The question surrounding the Hand High football team was adversity. The undefeated Tigers hadn’t trailed at any point in the 2018 campaign. How would they react?
Upstart Maloney-Meriden began the Saturday’s Class L championship with an onside kick and recovered it. On their first offensive play, Maloney QB Elliot Good lofted a pass that Hand defender Isaiah McNeilly tipped into the air to Maloney receiver Maurice Brackett for a 42-yard reception and a 6-0 lead with just 10 seconds gone in the contest.
“Every football game is about adversity. I don’t care what happens,” Hand head coach David Mastroianni said. “Maloney scores our kids come to the sideline and said ‘OK, we’re good.’ It was great to see everyone keep things in check.”
The Tigers scored 54 unanswered points with touchdowns on seven of their first eight drives to dominate Maloney, 54-14 at Veterans Memorial Stadium and win their second straight Class L championship.
Hand (13-0) staked their claim as the No. 1 team in the state as they finished the season undefeated for the ninth time in school history. The Tigers, who scored a school record 653 points this season, scored 32 points in the first quarter and had 54 points at halftime.
Quarterback Phoenix Billings threw three touchdown passes and junior running back Colin McCabe ran for a game-high 146 yards and two touchdowns as the Tigers brought home the 13th state championship in team history.
Only Ansonia (20) and St. Joseph-Trumbull (14) have won more CIAC state championships in football.
Six different players scored for Hand. Ben Corniello had a safety. The Tigers limited Maloney to just minus 11 yards rushing and had 13 tackles for losses (50 yards) and sacked Maloney QB Elliot Good seven times for 40 yards.
Good completed 17 of 34 passes for 215 yards and two touchdowns but he completed eight passes for 159 yards and a touchdown in the second half when the game was virtually over.
The closest anyone came to beating the Tigers was in week two when Hand beat New Fairfield by 29 points.
“We’ve done everything we can this year,” Billings said. “You can’t deny watching any of our games, say what you want about our schedule, that we haven’t dominated every facet of the game in every game so that’s all we can do.”
Could Hand be voted the No. 1 team in the New Haven Register’s sports writer’s top 10 poll? Undefeated Greenwich (13-0) also won on Saturday as they won the Class LL championship with a 34-0 win over New Canaan. Hand was ranked No. 2 in the final regular season poll of the season.
“At the end of the day, it’s up to you guys (the media),” Billings said. “We will go home and be happy with our two state championships.”
Mastroianni was a happy man on Saturday night on the turf at Veteran’s Memorial Stadium. The question of who is No. 1 rolled right off his back.
“With our program’s stature, we don’t have to beg,” Mastroianni said. “I’ll take 25-1 the last two years. I’ll take a 24-game winning streak. All I know is that we went back-to-back (state championships) and I couldn’t be any more proud of my guys. Whether we finish No. 1 or not doesn’t matter to us. I was able to experience this with our guys, our coaches and our community and that makes me happy.”
Hand has been hard to stop all year. Saturday’s championship game was no different.
“We’re all supportive of each other and we’re real competitive,” McCabe said. “When one guy scores, we all want to do something to keep the momentum going.”
It took just four plays for Hand to score with McCabe running in from 31 yards away. A two-point conversion from Isaiah McNeilly put Hand ahead, 8-6.
On Hand’s next drive, the Tigers scored on a 14-yard run from Billings. Another McNeilly two-point run pushed the lead to 16-6. Hand’s Ben Corniello sacked Good in the end zone for a safety and less than two minutes later, Billings found Chris Bartosic for a six-yard TD pass for a 28-6 lead.
Kevin Girardi scored on a 36-yard TD pass from Billings with 1:26 left in the first quarter for a 32-6 lead after eight minutes.
In the second quarter, Hand added three more touchdowns with Julian Banerji scoring on a 47-yard punt return, McCabe scoring on a 46-yard run and Ethan Haberman scoring on a 22-yard touchdown pass from Billings. Hand led 54-6 at halftime.
McNeilly scored on four two-point conversion runs and also kicked a pair of extra points.
“We are big. We are physical. We get after people,” said Mastroianni, who is 25-1 with two state titles in his first two seasons as a head coach. “If you talk to anybody who we played against, they will say we won the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and we have some tremendous skill (athletes) to compliment that. We in the thick of a heck of a run of kids right now.
Billings completed 5-of-11 passes for Hand for 79 yards and three TDs. Brett Leckey ran for 80 yards on 15 carries for the Tigers.
Class L championship
Hand 54, Maloney 14
At New Britain
Maloney (10-3) 6 0 0 8 — 14
Hand (13-0) 32 22 0 0 — 54
M: Maurice Brackett 42 pass from Elliot Good (pass fails), 11:50
H: Colin McCabe 31 run (Isaiha McNeilly run), 10:28
H: Phoenix Billings 14 run (McNeilly run), 7:58
H: Ben Corniello safety, 5:51
H: Christopher Bartostic 6 pass from Billings (McNeilly run), 4:34
H: Kevin Girardi 36 pass from Billings (pass fails), 1:26
H: Julian Banerji 47 punt return (McNeilly run) 11:02
H: McCabe 46 run (McNeilly run), 7:43
H: Ethan Haberman 22 pass from Billings (McNeilly kick), 4:10
M: Kamron Moreno 20 pass from Good (Marquez pass from Good), 3:18
RUSHING: Maloney – James Tarver 13-24, Freddi Hidalgo 2-0; Elliot Good 8-minus 35; Hand – Colin McCabe 8-144, Brett Leckey 15-80, Jesse Lutz 9-31, Phoenix Billings 3-21
PASSING: Maloney – Elliot Good 17-34-0, 215; James Tarver 0-1-1, 0; Hand – Phoenix Billings 5-11-0, 79
RECEIVING: Maloney – Victor Marquez 6-36, Vincent Martinez 5-90, Kamron Moreno 3-51, Maurice Brackett 2-40, James Tarver 1-minus 2; Hand – Chris Bartosic 2-111, Kevin Girardi 1-36, Ethan Haberman 1-22, William Cosgriff 1-10
RETURNS: Moreno (M) 5-51 (kickoff), Brackett (M) 1-41 (K0); Tarver (M) 2-38 (KO); Banerji (H) 1-47 (p); Ian Butler (H) 2-11 (KO); INTERCEPTIONS: Ian Butler (H) 1-0; SACKS: McCabe (H) 1-6, Corniello (H) 3-18, John Flanagan 1-6, Banerji (H) 1-6, Lukas Wagner (H) 1-4
McCabe goes 46 yards for TD.
7:40 left in half #cthsfb
Hand 47 Maloney 6 pic.twitter.com/hcpAKorfap
— Pete Paguaga (@PetePaguaga) December 8, 2018
Hands Julian Banerji with the 46 yard punt return
1106 left in half #cthsfb
Hand 40 Maloney 6 pic.twitter.com/kGjYJqwkdw
— Pete Paguaga (@PetePaguaga) December 8, 2018