New Haven — It was just the third offensive play of the game last Friday, and already
Hand (Madison, Conn.)
was watching its worst fear come true — Hillhouse (New Haven, Conn.)
running back Harold Cooper
burning down the field for a 69-yard touchdown run.
Hand lucked out when the touchdown was waved off due to a holding penalty. After that, the Tigers held Cooper and the rest of Hillhouse's dynamic backfield in check for most of the game and won the SCC inter-division contest, 37-19, at Bowen Field.
"I cannot stress how much speed (Hillhouse) has," Hand defensive lineman Peter Gerson
said. "We couldn't be faster than them. It's just not our team, but what we could do is be everywhere we needed to be, play our assignments and make a wall.
"Coach (Steve Filippone) said all through practice this week that nobody's fast in a telephone booth."
Cooper finished with 10 carries for 35 yards. He missed some of the game after injuring his wrist.
"We knew that we were going to face a great offensive team," Gerson said. "All respect to Hillhouse, they were great tonight. They have so much speed, so many skill players. They can do so many things with the ball. It's incredible."
Hand's defensive showing was an improvement from its opening-season win over Amity (Woodbridge, Conn). The Tigers, tied at No. 3 with Staples in the New London Day State Coaches Poll at 2-0, won that game by 35-13, but they weren't pleased.
"We didn't hit a soul last week against Amity," Filippone said. "We played powder puff football last week."
Hillhouse (1-1) put on an offensive show in its Week 1 win over Foran (Milford, Conn.). Cooper had three carries for 131 yards and three touchdowns. Senior running back Andre Anderson
added seven carries for 196 yards and two touchdowns.
Senior Je'Vaughn Moore
, who quarterbacks the Academics' option offense, is a dangerous two-way threat, too.
Cooper was Filippone's primary concern, though. The junior had a seed-time of 6.51 seconds in the 55-meter dash during last season's indoor track season. He would win that event at the CIAC State Open indoor meet at 6.55.
"I told our (coaches) in the meeting," Filippone said, " ‘I don't care if we've got to play the most unorthodox defense on earth — we are not letting Harold Cooper take a pitch and run 85 yards.' We're not doing it. And if they can beat us with the quarterback, if they can beat us with the fullback, so be it. I'll take it. And they didn't. We were lucky."
Hand opted to defend Hillhouse by running players towards the pitch.
"We're trying to defend from the third level, from our safeties," Filippone said. "The few times that guys got away, it was because we were really coming from 10 yards deep. "Our theory was better to die that way than to watch Cooper run by you for 85 yards."
Moore, who quarterbacked Hillhouse to the 2010 CIAC Class M championship, ran for a 66-yard touchdown against Hand on a broken play. Anderson added a 48-yard touchdown off a counter. Cooper's longest carry was for 10 yards.
The Hand defense also had two key stands. The first was near the end of the second quarter, when a turnover gave Hillhouse the ball at the Hand 19-yard line. Hillhouse gained only three yards and turned it over on downs.
The Academics trailed by four points midway through the third quarter when receiver Darryn Horner
, Moore and Anderson moved their team to the Hand 30-yard line. The Tigers turned Hillhouse over on downs again.
Gerson, a defensive lineman who's going to Yale, UConn-bound linebacker Matt Walsh
and fellow linebacker Wes Staples
all played well for Hand, the defending state Class L champions.
"We put a few licks on guys and made them think twice about whether they wanted to be out on the field," Filippone said. "And that's the way Hand High School plays defense. And that's the way we've always played defense.
"We have things to fix, but you know what — we got better, we got a little bit better this week, we discovered some stuff about our team."Ned
Griffen has covered high school, college and professional sports in the
Northeast since 1992. A 2003 New England Associated
Press News Executives award winner, he may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.