By Dave Ruden
STAMFORD — Of all the dissection following New Canaan’s 44-12 rout of Darien in Saturday’s Class L championship game, the most on target came from Rob Trifone, the Blue Wave’s coach.
“Most people in the state of Connecticut can’t beat that team once, and you’re asking us to beat them twice,” Trifone said.
Trifone was referring, of course, to the Blue Wave’s 28-24 Turkey Bowl win, a nice consolation prize for a team that easily soared over preseason expectations.
Truth be told, it is doubtful anyone was going to beat a driven New Canaan team in the snow at Boyle Stadium on Saturday. The fact that the opponent was the Rams’ arch-rival, which had already swiped their chances at a perfect season, just made them a more prohibitive underdog.
“With the amount of seniors we have on our defense, we knew this was our last game together and we wanted to go out the right way,” said linebacker Michael Root, who was the shining star of a defense that overpowered a very good offense.
Darien quarterback Silas Wyper was on the run all day, forced into a 10-of-34, 107-yard performance. He spent too much time on his back making snow angels by a relentless pass rush from a defense that chose the biggest stage to play its most complete game.
“Darien’s a great program,” Root said. “I give them credit. I’d probably say today was our best.”
A lot was made after the game about whether New Canaan or Ansonia, which finished an unbeaten season Friday night with the Class S title, is the best team in Connecticut.
The Rams finished 14-1, a school record for wins in a season.
Trifone threw his hat into the ring, casting his mythical vote for the Rams.
“This is the No. 1 team in the state,” Trifone said. “I know the people in the valley don’t want to hear it.”
New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said he wished the two teams could meet next weekend at Yale Bowl.
The topic made for great debate wherever New Canaan partisans went to celebrate after the game. But truth be told, it is all moot. How many people really remember which team was voted No. 1 in past years?
It is the championships that are remembered, and Marinelli won his ninth, the most by any coach in state history.
“This is like a dream,” Marinelli said, talking about his team, not his accomplishment. “I’m so happy for the seniors. To play your last high school game against your arch rival, in the snow, and to win the way we did. It’s like a dream come true.”
The snow, which covered the field before the game but had stopped by halftime, brought out the best in New Canaan quarterback Nick Cascione, who completed 14 of 24 passes for 226 yards and 2 touchdowns as his final signature. He also ran for 76 yards, 41 coming on a jaunt that provided the Rams’ final points of the day. His exclamation point was an end-zone slide in the snow.
“It didn’t hit me to do that until I crossed the goal line,” Cascione said. “I owe it all to the offensive line. They opened up a huge hole on that play and I kind of kept running.”
Cascione, who moved to New Canaan from Florida, said he had never played or practiced in the snow before. The only time came one Thanksgiving in the yard when he was up here visiting cousins.
“It was a new experience for me. It’s a lot of fun,” Cascione said. “I can do it again.”
Though winter workouts will begin soon, the guess here is the Rams are going to feel both great satisfaction and a huge void tomorrow. This is a close group that shared a common goal. It has league and state titles to show for its effort.
“This was our last time we’d be together and we wanted to show what we can do,” said Zach Allen, who stole a ball from Wyper and returned it for a touchdown on Thanksgiving and deflected, intercepted and returned a pass for a score Saturday.
With the New Canaan defense, led by players like Root, Allen, Cole Harris and Connor Buck, it is a game of Can you Top This?
“It is kind of like a competition of who can outdo each other,” Allen said. “You just want to help your team win.”
Darien arrived Saturday on an incredible run, with consecutive come-from-behind wins over North Haven, New Canaan, Daniel Hand and Middletown.
Trifone said he told his players after the game “don’t let this tarnish what has been a magical ride from a group people expected to be 6-5.”
Given the Rams’ performance the last three months and on Saturday, the Blue Wave’s win ranks as one of the great accomplishments of this high school football season.
But, in the end, as Root and his teammates wanted, they did, indeed, go out the right way.