Tigers Playing 7-on-7 Football, Notch Win Over Branford
Junior Patch Flanagan and the Hand football team are playing in a 7-on-7 non-contact football league that was organized by the Southern Connecticut Conference this fall. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Senior Colin Telford and the Tigers claimed a 36-35 victory at Branford in a 7-on-7 football game on Oct. 13. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Source | Buy This Photo)
Head Coach Steve Filippone didn’t think that the Daniel Hand High School football team would be playing 7-on-7 non-tackle football this fall. However, with the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) having canceled the traditional football season, that is exactly what the Tigers find themselves doing these days.
The Southern Connecticut Conference (SCC) decided to organize a five-game, 7-on-7 league that features several teams in the conference in lieu of the fact that 11-on-11 tackle football season is off the table until at least the spring of 2021. Last week, Hand notched a 36-35 victory at Branford in its opening game on Oct. 13, after which the Tigers played a game at West Haven in which no score was kept two days later. Hand has contests against Lyman Hall, Guilford, and Xavier remaining on its schedule.
While Coach Filippone is glad that the Tigers are getting to play some form of football, he knows that the traditional format is the only way that his players are going to be able to reach their potential.
“It’s just not what it needs to be for these kids to get the full experience of playing football,” said Filippone. “I’m happy that they are getting an opportunity to do something, but it’s tough, because no one is getting better playing 7-on-7.”
There are quite a few differences in the rules of the game in the 7-on-7 format. It’s still a four-quarter contest, but in addition to the fact that there is no tackling (two-hand touch is used instead), there are also no running plays on offense, no rushing the passer on defense, and no kickoffs or kicks at all on special teams. The players do not wear pads or helmets. Each offense starts its drive at the opposition’s 40-yard line and has four downs to get 20 yards for a first down.
As all of this is going on, there are also lineman challenges that take place during the course of the game that yield points for a team. The challenges include a tug-of-war, a one-man sled push, a five-man sled push, and an obstacle course. The team that wins each challenge earns six points that count toward the overall score.
“We actually won our game against Branford because of the lineman challenge, which was kind of neat,” Coach Filippone said. “The final lineman challenge is a tug-of-war, and it’s nice to see the kids battle back and forth to give them some form of a game.”
Lineman Ryan Bordiere is one of Hand’s senior captains this year, joining wide receiver/defensive back Will Flanagan in that role. Junior Patch Flanagan is playing quarterback for Hand. Coach Filippone said that senior lineman Tommy Bambrick and fellow seniors Colin Telford and Conner Quinn also have been performing well for the Tigers in this new league.
Even though the linemen played a big part in Hand’s victory versus Branford, Filippone feels that those players are losing out more than anyone with this 7-on-7 format, because they aren’t able to get into the trenches.
“It’s like playing golf, but you only get to putt. It’s essentially worthless for these linemen, because they’re not allowed to showcase their talents, and it’s a hard situation for them,” said Filippone. “I especially feel for those that were using this season as an opportunity to get recruited by potential colleges. The players that are benefiting from this are receivers, quarterbacks, and defensive backs, because you can still see who has talent in route running, pass coverage, and throwing the ball.”
Filippone said that Hand had an opportunity to play tackle football in a couple of private leagues that were organized by other conferences in the state. However, it would have been a pay-to-play situation for the Tigers in a format that his considered high risk and not recommended by the Connecticut Department of Health.
“We were invited to play in a couple of different leagues, and we are still considering doing something of that nature in the spring,” said Filippone. “We chose to not to partake in it this fall, because we wanted to align ourselves with our administration. We are taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously, and we wanted to show that our beliefs align with the administration.”
The CIAC is planning to potentially squeeze in a shortened 11-on-11 tackle football season between the winter and spring campaigns in 2021. Still, that plan is hardly set in stone, especially with Connecticut being one of many states in the nation that has seen its COVID-19 numbers rise again in recent weeks.
“Realistically, I don’t know what’s going to change from now until the spring, when they allegedly want to have us try playing tackle,” Coach Filippone said. “I’ve heard that winter sports are slated to happen still, and that doesn’t make much sense to me, either. If you could have these kids wrestling and playing basketball with each other, then how are we not allowed to play tackle? They’re trying their best, though. It’s not an easy decision.”
In the end, Filippone knows that a lot of things are going to have to fall into place in order Hand to play football in the spring. As much as he would like to see that happen, Filippone isn’t sold that it ultimately will.
“We’re hoping for an angel,” said Filippone. “But I don’t suspect we’re going to get it.”