Commentary: It Is Time To Really Believe In The Blue Wave


The Darien football team celebrates Thursday’s 28-24 win over New Canaan (Photo: Darien Athletic Foundation)

By Dave Ruden

NEW CANAAN — Rob Trifone started believing what others couldn’t at about 4:15 Wednesday afternoon.

The Darien High School football team had just finished its final practice for the following day’s annual Turkey Bowl with New Canaan, unbeaten, ranked No. 1 in the state and seemingly unbeatable all fall.

The Blue Wave players gathered in the office of Trifone, their head coach. First the seniors spoke, then the coaches.

“When we came out of that I knew we could win,” Trifone said Thursday afternoon, moments after Darien did just that, a surprising though not completely startling 28-24 win in what is arguably the state’s best rivalry. “The talk was about football and family. There were no Xs and Os.”

The Blue Wave (11-1) jumped from the fourth into the No. 1 position in the Class L rankings, an improbable regular-season-ending position three months ago, if not three hours before Thursday’s kickoff.

Truth be told — and no one from either side voiced a dissenting opinion — Darien outplayed its biggest rival for most of the morning.

For the second straight game, New Canaan quarterback Nick Cascione threw a long touchdown pass, to Alex LaPolice, on the team’s first play, covering 80 yards and aided by a beautiful block by Jack Gilio.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Rams’ Zach Allen, a junior who earlier tied the team record for career sacks, made a spectacular play to strip Darien quarterback Silas Wyper and went 33 yards to give the Rams (11-1) a 24-21 lead.

It was a play that seemed to turn the game around after Darien was quickly forced to punt.

But the Blue Wave defense held and Wyper led the team on a 13-play, 66-yard drive that started with 7:48 remaining and ate up all but the final 58 seconds. There were three third-down conversions and one on fourth down, a roughing the passer penalty on an incomplete pass.

New Canaan's Cole Harris returns a fumble against Darien. (Photo: Chris Cody)

New Canaan’s Cole Harris returns a fumble against Darien. (Photo: Chris Cody)

“This team never gives up,” Wyper said. “That’s why it is so great. The camaraderie on this team is unparalleled to any team I’ve ever been on, and if you ask the coaches they would say the same thing. I think it showed through on that final drive. We made plays on third down, fourth down, you name it.”

The Rams still had one final chance, and you don’t want to give Cascione any chances. He has not been sharp the last two weeks since returning from a concussion, but all the senior does is win.

He almost pulled off the rally, moving the team from its own 21-yard line down to the Darien 9. When his fourth-down pass was broken up in the corner of the end zone, the state football landscape had shifted.

“They deserve all the credit,” New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said. “They came in and took it to us on our own field. They had a tremendous plan for us.”

Darien has been one of the state’s most interesting teams. It came into the season something of a mystery because of personnel turnover. Everyone knew Nick Lombardo, but few had heard of Wyper or defensive lineman Mark Evanchick, the sophomore who has had a monstrous season.

The Blue Wave were respected because of their past, but not mentioned much to be a factor on a larger scale. Except for being outplayed in the second half against St. Joseph — whose only two losses are to New Canaan — Darien has been perfect.

Still, its Q rating never really jumped until a come-from-behind win at North Haven two weeks ago.

“We try to play mistake-free football,” Wyper said. “We are ground them, pound them and people don’t give us credit for that. I think North Haven thought they were going to kick our butts because we’re preppy kids from Fairfield County. We have a lot of grit.”

Darien's John Reed breaks a run against New Canaan. (Photo: Darien Athletic Foundation)

Darien’s John Reed breaks a run against New Canaan. (Photo: Darien Athletic Foundation)

It has shown. It was one reason why, though heavily favored, no one was considering this a cakewalk for New Canaan en route to an eventual coronation.

“The odds were stacked against us,” Trifone said. “New Canaan is one heck of a football team. I don’t think too many people outside of our family gave us a chance.”

So what is next? No one is foolish enough to downgrade the Rams. A perfect season is off the table, but there is too much talent not to even still consider them the Class L frontrunner. Who knows, maybe the loss helps them over the next two weeks.

By the same token, the Blue Wave are no novelty. Class L is loaded, but as Thursday proved, it is not unreasonable to ask: Why not Darien?

“We definitely had a chip on our shoulder,” Wyper said. “We are peaking at the right time.”

There could even be a rematch in the offering on Dec. 14 at Central Connecticut. No one from these parts would be disappointed.

“That would be great,” Wyper said of the prospect. “This is incredible. The respect we will get from this win, and the momentum. And it’s the Turkey Bowl.”

10 Comments on "Commentary: It Is Time To Really Believe In The Blue Wave"

  1. Some random thoughts on game:
    Darien’s been under estimated all year. Other than LB’s they were equal of NC. NC had dumb penalties all year and has not learned. The Howard crew calls it tight but fair and the NC players should have learned that against Staples with same crew. Harris roughing the passer penalty was right call and cost NC the game. Throw in missed punt blocking assignment that let Evenchick walk in, poor execution by NC O line, questionable play calling and NC beat themselves. Wyper showed he is a gamer and made the plays when needed.For the much heraled Buck , Evenchick was the best DL on the field yesterday. Loss might prove to be the wakeup call that NC needs to get their heads on
    straight for the states. Perhaps another Darien / NC match-up in 3 weeks.

  2. Agree completely with Tyler M. Darien really did out play the Rams and as Dave knows, I’m a real Rams fan and that is hard to admit. Seems to me NC was caught up with themselves most of the afternoon. The O-line did not appear to do much all game. And, if not for 5 Darien turn overs, this would have been much worse.

    Still with an opportunity to win with 2 1/2 minutes to go, the 4th down roughing the passer call showed a total lack of discipline and cost them the game. BTW, in my view it was a good call.

    I hope the loss does wake NC up as this has been a unique season for the Rams. Maybe they should scrap the designer helmets and jerseys and just go back to playing good old fashioned NC Pride football.

    • Darien outplayed New Canaan. Darien is better than people think and New Canaan had an off day. I’d love to see a state final rematch.
      You bring up a great point: it had nothing to do with the outcome, but I can tell you the changing of the uniforms is affecting the perception of the program outside the town. I have a lot of thoughts on this but all I will say is this is one practice that should be done away with. Once is fine. You lose and this is the kind of thing that is going to be brought up. And it is an added bull’s-eye.

      • New Canaan has always had a bit of a bull’s- eye but more so now that Lou has ceded a bit of his leadership to a group of cocksure young coaches. It’s a bit of a double edged sword because the young coaches have also helped raise the bar for the quality and perception of FCIAC football. The NC 7 on 7 tournament is fast becoming the most respected tourney in the East.
        Some of this cocksuredness has filtered down to the players and you could see as season wore on that it might bite them at some point. In blow out games starters clowning around on sidelines, helmets off , baseball caps on and cell phones in hand like they were in the NFL. Young receivers after simple catches getting up and giving the Manziel “show me the money” sign. Complete disrespect of opponents and lost focus that in previous times Lou or Bo Hickey never would have stood for. In almost every game this lack of focus also translated into dumb penalties perhaps from officials more than happy to flag
        NC and cut them down a peg. Penalties did not hurt in the blow outs but was the difference in close Darien game.

  3. Agree with your view Dave.I hope that the NC coaches and players take the lessons from the game and refocus on executing their game plan on the field and that the local town support takes the lesson of what is really important in HS sports.

  4. Tyler hits the nail on the head. NC is a great program which Lou has built over many years with support from the school administration and a wonderful parents organization. He has established some great traditions and the success of his program both on and off the field is an example for HS football programs every where. However, as Tyler mentions, there are some cracks in the veneer that, in my view, need to be addressed. A recommitment to some good, old fashioned discipline, on the field and on the sideline, and some humble respect, for coaches, team mates and opponents, would help.

  5. As evidence of NC’s undiscipline nature and perhaps the target on
    their back, for the year they were penalized 93 times for a total
    of 768 yards. This compares to opponents being penalized 50
    times for a total of 461 yards. A stunning difference. Hand game
    was an indicator of things to come when NC was penalized 9 times
    for 95 yards compared to Hands 2 for 20 yds. Clearly the coaches did
    nothing to clean it up.Only twice in 11 games did an opponent have more penalties than NC — Bassick and Ward. In Darien game, NC was 8 for 110 yds compared
    to Darien at 5 for 52 yds, Not even factored into that yardage was the offsetting penalties on bad Darien punt snap where NC was called for face mask and Darien with ineligible which allowed Darien to punt again instead of NC getting the ball inside The Darien 10 yd line.

  6. Great stats Tyler and interesting perspective. Dave there’s a story line some where in all of this.

  7. As further evidence of NC’s undiscipline nature and disrespect of opponents check out
    the video highlights of NC / Darien that Dave has posted. First play, the NC TD. Look at
    receiver in end zone doing his Manziel “show me the money” sign and again to his
    coach as he comes to sidelines. Imagine doing that to Bo Hickey? Been preening all
    year and no one has said anything. It’s not The NFL. I guess Darien showed him the money and took it back with them.

  8. New Canaan’s young coaches are anything but” cocksure” they are dedicated, committed and no coaching staff in the state works harder. The time they spend preparing their players is unparalled they watch more film then any coaches in the state. The hours and hours that is given to the NC program is like none other … grateful. As young coaches they like to have some fun and they should anyone who works tireless hours should have some fun. Regarding the Manziel not a big fan …but these players are some of the best student athletes in the state ….”student” athletes that work hard in the classroom and on the field many will be attending some of the finest colleges in the country in addition they volunteer in the community with great respect for the people of NC……….when’s the last time a NC player spray painted a school or urinated in a bag of equipment? ……these are young men everyone should be proud of…. for those reasons the next time one of them scores a TD you should rub your fingers together and do the Manziel ……

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