RIDGEFIELD — Tales of the demise of the Darien football team have been greatly exaggerated.
Based on the tone of the preseason, one got the sense the feeling was doomsday for the Blue Wave, not because of their faults, but because they weren’t going to be as good as the team that won two straight state titles. They were voted No. 2 in the opening state writers’ poll, but the difference between the No. 1 finish of a year ago was made to seem a chasm in public sentiment.
What the Darien players believed internally is likely to be shared externally following tonight’s 38-12 win over Ridgefield in a rematch of last year’s Class LL final.
“It happens every year,” said the Blue Wave’s Brian Minicus. “We definitely lose bodies but just like we said, next man up always comes up, just as good if not better. We definitely had holes to fill and I think we proved today we filled them. The line stepped up huge and all around a good effort. This preseason there was definitely a question if we were going to be any good, and I think we answered it tonight.”
Minicus set the tone on the third play of the game, when he returned an interception 17 yards for a touchdown. Minicus would add two more interceptions and return a second for another score.
“The coaches put us in good position,” Minicus said. “It was nice to see it go that way.”
Quarterback Jack Joyce, in his first start, threw a pair of touchdown passes to Max Grant.
“Obviously it’s a team effort, but even I said to the guys those two guys really stand out,” Darien coach Rob Trifone said of Minicus and Joyce. “The defense played extremely well, led by Minicus. Boy, does that kid have a nose for the ball or what.”
The Blue Wave might have graduated one of the best defensive lines in recent memory, but they still got plenty of pressure on Ridgefield quarterback Greg Gatto. The secondary, back intact, finished with five interceptions.
“First of all they are very good, and their strength we knew was incredible, their back seven guys,” Ridgefield coach Kevin Callahan said. “The way they broke on the ball. We came out and made very young and stupid mistakes too, and we have to work on that.”
The changes on Darien’s offensive line overshadowed the one at quarterback. It is usually the other way around. Trifone loves the dynamic he gets from Joyce’s speed, and he showed to be an accurate passer. The Blue Wave diversified their offense by letting Joyce, who has given a verbal commitment to play lacrosse at Penn, roll out and run with the ball. It will cause defenses to be hesitant.
“As you know there were question marks, as there are every year,” Trifone said. “And one of those question marks was quarterback. People were wondering if Jack Joyce was the right person, and I said watch. You see how athletic he is. He was awesome tonight.”
Both lines held up well, and if not for a few mistakes on special teams — one of which led to a Ridgefield score — the Blue Wave’s 26th straight win would have been nearly flawless.
“We are definitely trying to patch things up on the special teams,” Minicus said. “That’s six points unforced there. The defense played really well tonight.”
What to make of the Tigers, who were fifth in the opening poll, two spots lower than they ended last year? For now, we know they are not as good as Darien. That may be true of the rest of the state.
The offense never got into a rhythm, and their receivers were contained, but that may have had more to do with the Blue Wave’s secondary. Other than Connor Goff’s 3-yard return of a blocked punt, the Tigers were kept off the scoreboard until Gatto hit Jackson Mitchell for a 1-yard touchdown late in the third quarter.
“We have to take responsibility,” Callahan said. “We made a lot of mistakes, plus that’s a very good team. Do I think the score is indicative of who we are? No. We’ve got work to do.”
Let’s call the Tigers a work in progress and see what happens.
As for the Blue Wave? It looks like their temporary bump in the polls ends after No. 1 New Canaan was defeated by St. Joseph late tonight.
“We knew how good we are and that’s all that matters,” Minicus said. “We just have to prove that to everyone else. ”