Hand knocks down Guilford, inches from Class L playoff spot

MADISON – Having started the season with two losses, Hand is as close as possible to returning to the CIAC L-class football playoffs.

The Tigers are set to clinch their fourth straight Class L playoff spot after beating Guilford, 43-18, in the annual Thanksgiving contest between the two neighboring schools.

Hand, who leads the series 42-5-1, got some help when Quinebaug Valley rounded off Thames River, 57-13, earlier in the night. The Tigers need wins over Sheehan, Notre Dame-West Haven, North Haven or New Canaan on Thanksgiving morning or a loss by Fitch to Ledyard to enter.

Hand (7-3) did his part Wednesday night in front of a packed crowd at the Surf Club.

“They’re probably the best Guilford team we’ve seen since 2006,” Hand coach Erik Becker said. “We are tested in combat and we have been sharpened by iron. We played one of the toughest programs in Connecticut and we embraced the tough path. “

Hand took a 22-0 lead after just a quarter.

In the fifth game of the scrum alone, Patch Flanagan threw a bubble pass to Seth Sweitzer in midfield. Sweitzer crossed the field on the left side and came down to the right sideline for a 54-yard play.

Ethan O’Brien, who ran for 164 yards on just 16 carries, added a 16-yard rush with 4:41 left in the first quarter to take the score to 14-0. And then Flanagan added a five-yard rush with just 25 seconds left in the period.

“Our line did a great job putting holes in,” said O’Brien, who broke the 1,000 yard rushing mark this season. “I punched the hole hard and drilled after that.”

Sweitzer had two two-point conversions in the first quarter.

A two-yard run by Flanagan and a 26-yard pass from Flanagan to Sam Sisk in the left corner of the end zone gave Hand a 36-0 halftime advantage.

“We didn’t come out as we hoped,” Guilford coach Anthony Salvati said. “You can’t go out slowly against a team like this. They will make you pay for it.

Guilford finally entered the board in the third quarter when Tyler Hilgert hit Jack O’Brien with a five-yard pass for a touchdown with 6:28 left in the third quarter.

Ryan Milliard closed the scoring for Hand with a two-yard rush with 10:12 left in the game.

Guilford scored twice in the fourth quarter, both on passes (5 and 18 yards) from Hilgert to Mikey Palatiello.

Guilford finished the season with a 6-4 record.

“We are changing the culture,” Salvati said. “It’s a tough pill to swallow because there were two games we could easily have had. We have set the stage, but we have to get to 7-3 or 8-2 next year.

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