GREENWICH — The Darien High School football team was not lacking for incentive when it arrived at Cardinal Stadium on Saturday.
First and foremost, the Blue Wave wanted to play as well as the spectacular early autumn weather in their first big test of the season, against Greenwich. There were the memories of a year ago, also in the second week of the season, when Darien fumbled the ball away five times yet escaped with a 33-26 win.
The Blue Wave wanted to plant their first exclamation point of the season, and if further motivation was needed, it came in the form of what Greenwich called a “First Week Hype Video” that began circulating last Sunday. It was actually harmless fun, but in this day and age teams will find added stimulus wherever they can.
Darien’s ledger was full of check marks following an impressive 51-28 victory that affirmed, at least on very early returns, it is at least in the discussion when the topic is the state’s best team.
“The key is the fact we’re not turning the ball over this year,” Darien coach Rob Trifone said as daylight morphed into darkness. “Last year we were young and we had about four turnovers a game and we were still winning.”
Trifone said limiting mistakes was a point of emphasis during spring football.
“You have to take care of the ball,” Trifone said. “It has paid off. I do know it makes a big difference.”
So does talent, and the Blue Wave have an abundance of it. The game within the game seemed to be a contest of whether Shelby Grant, whose breakout performance was on this same field last season, would have more touchdowns then defensive end Mark Evanchick would sacks. It was a good contest, with Grant coming out with a 6-4 victory.
Grant finished with 174 yards on 19 carries, showing a quick burst through holes that allowed him to fall forward for several yards after the first hit. It was a perfect complement to a very methodical passing game that relied mostly on high-percentage passes.
Darien took a 7-0 lead just 1:55 in when quarterback Timmy Graham hit Grant in the flat for what turned into an 18-yard score. It was set up when Evanchick forced a fumble on the third play of the day.
The next time the Blue Wave (2-0) got the ball, Graham completed six of seven passes to set up Grant’s 5-yard scoring run. The longest pass was for 19 yards to Colin Minicus, the receiver who is one of the least-talked about great players in the league.
Darien appeared primed for the early knockout, but the Cardinals’ Anthony Ferraro broke two tackles on a pass play that went for 53 yards to set up Luke Bienstock’s 15-yard touchdown run.
The Blue Wave got the lead back to 24-7 before Bienstock followed a field goal with a 66-yard touchdown run. But the Cardinals’ big-play attack soon lost steam, and their defensive struggles, which were apparent in a 42-38 win over Trinity Catholic, continued.
Grant’s 29-yard run made the score 31-14 at the half and Christian Trifone’s 16-yard touchdown after three straight carries by Grant to start the second half was the decisive blow.
“We all play the same game,” Trifone said. “If you’re going to stop the run, we’re going to throw the ball. We started throwing the ball all over in the first half and then they got into a five-box and we started to feed the ball to Shelby and Christian. The thing is we can do both and the offensive line did a great job.”
Then there was Evanchick, who was a complete disruptive force, getting hits and pressures when not actually putting the quarterback to the ground. He has an endless energy level and he is a refreshing star. He now stands 11 sacks away from the state record, which he is asked about in every interview. He is candid about it (see the accompanying video here) but with great humility.
“He’s a very gifted athlete,” Trifone said. “I sometimes use the word genetic freak. And he is such a hard worker.”
New coach John Marinelli’s fingerprints are continually evident on the Greenwich program, which included sharp new uniforms that made their debut. There is still a lot to like about the team, it is just not yet at the elite level of the league’s top powers. The huge turnout by the student body was proof there is a renewed energy and interest.
As for Darien, it accomplished what it hoped for on its short business trip.
“It was not only an early test but an early road test,” Trifone said. “This was big test No. 1.”