New Canaan can't overcome Hand in Class L championship
When Matt Milano hit Duke Repko on a 34-yard touchdown pass, drawing New Canaan to within 17 points of Daniel Hand late in the third quarter of Saturday's Class L championship game, visions of four years ago were flashing in the heads of the coaches on both sidelines.
It was four years ago that Hand entered the final quarter of the final with a three-score lead, only to watch the Rams explode for 20 unanswered points to win the second of what would become four straight state titles.
"I told our kids about the way they had beaten us in the last quarter, and there was no way they were going to take this away," Hand coach Steve Filippone said. "We had to finish the job."
On this day for New Canaan, there were no comebacks against a Tigers team that had too many weapons and took away the most important components of the Rams' offense.
Hand (13-0) won its 10th state title in convincing fashion, scoring twice in the first five minutes before rolling to a 34-10 victory at Rentschler Field.
The Tigers defeated New Canaan for the first time in four tries, avenging a 39-21 loss in last year's semifinals.
"That was something our kids had to come back from," Filippone said. "That was the subtle pressure."
"All you guys talking about who should be No. 1 in the state should be looking at them," New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said afterward to the media, pointing over to the Hand players as they accepted the championship trophy. "They were bigger, faster, stronger and knocked us on our ass. There's nothing more you can say."
New Canaan was playing in its sixth straight state final, winning the first four before losing to Masuk last year, 50-20. The Rams surrendered more points in the last two finals than they had in their six previous appearances -- all victories -- combined.
"I haven't won any state titles but I've lost two, and that's the hardest part," said quarterback Matt Milano. "This was like the spitting image of last year."
Unbeknownst to those outside the program, Milano has been receiving treatment for a recurrence of tendinitis in his throwing shoulder, which started the week after Thanksgiving. Milano, who will undergo an MRI later this month, said this was the first pain-free week he has had since the injury flared up.
It was a good thing: Milano attempted 63 passes, the third most in a game in CIAC history, and tied a state record with 38 completions. He threw for 357 yards and a touchdown, but as they did successfully in last week's semifinal against Masuk's Casey Cochran, the Tigers rushed three and dropped eight players into coverage.
Milano had plenty of time to pass but repeatedly scrambled in vein trying to find open players.
"Our defense has been phenomenal," said Filippone. "It has been unbelievably good."
Hand scored on its first play from scrimmage, when Frey burst through a huge hole and went 70 yards for a 7-0 lead just 67 seconds in.
Two possessions later, Frey's 58-yard run set up Foye's 12-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Anderson.
The Rams had their chances early. After being held without a first down the first three times they had the ball, they got inside the red zone three times, but only came away with Collin Shapiro's 26-yard field goal with 1:36 left in the half.
"They are a good team and not scoring more there hurt us," said the Rams' Bobby Distler. "They did a good job defending us and some things just didn't go our way."
Hand came right back and delivered a crushing blow with Vitale's 11-yard touchdown reception five seconds before halftime to make the score 20-3.
The Tigers extended their lead on Vitale's 28-yard run on a beautifully executed reverse to start the second half, and it was apparent there would be no miraculous comebacks on this day.
"We're not this bad a football team," Marinelli said. "But they had a great game plan and did a great job of making us look bad."
NOTES: Marinelli was denied a ninth CIAC title. He is currently tied for the most by a coach in state history with eight. ... The Rams had four players with at least seven catches and 65 yards: Peter Kraus (10-131), Repko (8-64), Connor Kilbane (7-78) and Patrick Newton (7-65). ... Dylan Leeming had 11 tackles, Kevin McDonough nine and Jared Meichner eight.
Dave Ruden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @DaveRuden.
Class L Football Championship
DANIEL HAND 34, NEW CANAAN 10
NEW CANAAN 0 3 7 0--10
DANIEL HAND 14 6 7 7--34
DH--Kevin Frey, 70 run (Ryan Bell kick)
DH--Kyle Anderson, 12 pass from Henry Foye (Bell kick)
NC--Collin Shapiro, 26 field goal
DH--Nicholas Vitale, 11 pass from Foye (kick failed)
DH--Vitale, 28 run (Bell kick)
NC--Duke Repko, 30 pass from Matt Milano (Shapiro kick)
DH--Matthew Walsh, 1 run (Bell kick)
Records: New Canaan 11-2; Daniel Hand 13-0.