MADISON -- The New Canaan defense graduated several All-State players and was reported to be a work in progress by those who saw them in preseason.

If this is a work in progress, watch out for when it all comes together.

The defense held No. 2 ranked Hand to just two scores, shutting them out in the second half en route to a 21-14 win at Strong Field.

Rams senior linebacker Peter Benko said the players read what was written about the defense and it helped motivate them for the opening game.

"It definitely helps you play with a chip on your shoulder," Benko said. "To come back and have a nameless defense and nobody knows what it is going to be like and to have it all come together like that is pretty special."

The defense stopped Hand on the final drive of the game, forcing the Tigers to go four-and-out, but the biggest play came the series before.

With Hand driving, Michael Cognetta stripped the ball from quarterback Nicolas Van Dell near midfield with less than three minutes to play, racing down to the 20-yard line.

Rams coach Lou Marinelli said that new defensive coordinator Chris Silvestri and the group of new players deserve all the credit for the win.

"We had very few kids back from last year and to do what they did, especially in the second half, was a hell of a job," Marinelli said. "For being new and undersized and Chris Silvestri taking over as defensive coordinator, I think they were tremendous today."

No. 9 New Canaan held the Tigers on the opening drive, taking over in Hand territory after a punt.

The Rams then got on the board when Michael Collins hit Alex LaPolice for a 12-yard touchdown pass.

New Canaan made it 12-0 when Collins found Michael Kraus on a 23-yard connection in the first quarter.

Hand took a 14-12 lead at halftime after a 1-yard run by Reid Sweitzer and a 39-yard pass from Van Dell to Andrew Fitzgerald.

New Canaan went ahead to stay on another Collins-to-LaPolice connection in the third quarter, this time for 12 yards, making it 18-12.

The Rams added a 16-yard field goal by Jack Hoelzer, making it 21-14 in the fourth quarter.

Late in the fourth, Hand appeared to stop the Rams but was flagged for too many men on the field on a punt, giving the ball back to the Rams.

It was the second time the Tigers were called for the same penalty and was their undoing according to coach Steve Filippone.

"Just so many mistakes. Some that are obvious to you guys and some that (only) we know," Filippone said. "It's not youth, it's a bit of a lack of focus and concentration and we have been dealing it all preseason and it didn't get any better. We are missing that high-level of focus that is needed to beat good teams like that."

Scott.Ericson@scni.com; @EricsonSports

New Canaan 21, Hand 14

NEW CANAAN 12 0 6 3 -- 21

HAND 0 14 0 0 -- 14

Records: NC 1-0; H 0-1

NC--Alex LaPolice 12 pass Michael Collins (kick failed)

NC--Michael Kraus 23 pass Collins (pass failed)

H--Reid Sweitzer 1 run (Tyler Phan kick)

H--Andrew Fitzgerald 39 pass Nicolas Van Dell (Phan kick)

NC--LaPolice 12 pass Collins (pass failed)

NC--Jack Hoelzer 16 FG