DARIEN — Tonight’s 30-6 win over Ridgefield might not have provided sufficient data for the skeptics that think Darien is not going to hit the tape first ahead of the three other teams in the league that occupied the top four spots in the opening state writers’ poll.
At the same time, there were certainly a bounty of positives for the Blue Wave as they took that initial step toward what they hope will be a fourth straight Class LL title and No. 1 ranking.
“We really don’t feel pressure because we worked so hard in the offseason,” said Darien quarterback Cooper Hancock. “It’s just more next man up.”
Hancock is the next man up as the fourth different starter at the position for the Blue Wave in the past four years. Hancock spread the ball around to a group of receivers that might provide the team with the greatest depth it has had at the position this decade. He threw two touchdown passes and rebounded from the occasional misfire.
“Six or seven,” Hancock said when asked how he would grade his first start. “I missed some things that I definitely should have hit. I actually wasn’t nervous, I was excited. All the work we put in, we were all excited.”
Hancock’s performance certainly provided reassurance for his coach, Rob Trifone, especially against a team with a taxing scheme like Ridgefield’s and the relentless pressure applied by Jackson Mitchell, who had two sacks to derail drives.
“I thought Cooper and the offense did a great job,” Trifone said. “The offensive line had a tough draw tonight. They have that 3-3 stack and they bring five and sometimes six, and Jackson Mitchell is one of the best players in the state and he showed it tonight. I was very proud of the O-Line, and you saw the receivers that we have.”
Everything Hancock threw up in the vicinity of Tyler Herget and TJ Cornacchia was caught. He spread the ball around to five different receivers, with Cornacchia and Will Rolapp catching touchdown passes.
“I think I hit all the starters today,” Hancock said. “When you just know they can all beat their guy it’s so much easier to read the defense.”
The other question mark was the defensive line, the position that has been the Blue Wave’s biggest strength during this run. A week ago we had Connor Fay and The Unkowns, and Fay applies pressure from the linebacker spot — and he was all over the field tonight.
One player to watch is Alex Quirk, a senior end who was active both against the run and pass, finishing with three sacks.
“I was definitely happy with the way I played,” Quirk said. “It is what I wanted going into this game. I just wanted to play the best game I could. The rest of the defensive line held up. We still have to improve more but we’ll get there.”
Quirk moved to Darien last year from Greenwich and got caught in a numbers game.
“Last year was a tough year for him,” Trifone said. “Here you are a junior in high school, you’ve just moved towns, new friends. We kind of took him under our wing toward the end of last year and I think he saw what he could be. We got him in the weight room and what you saw today was a product of that.”
Rolapp and Will Kirby had touchdown runs as Darien scored on its first possession of the second half to take a 24-6 lead and put the game away.
It was a difficult start for the Tigers, who were hit hard by graduation and could have used a little traction before facing a team like the Blue Wave. The defense played well in stretches and Mitchell was tremendous, accounting for the Tigers’ lone points on a pass from Owen Mathews, making his first start, that was set up by an interception from Owen Gaydos.
If the Tigers show resilience after this setback there is no reason to believe they won’t again finish in the upper region of the standings.
Darien’s effort tonight was surpassed only by the drive that has engulfed this program to maintain excellence, no matter who is or isn’t on the field.
“Being the defending state champs and going for a fourth we know we have to bring it,” Quirk said. “We definitely know we are not the biggest and we have to work with our speed. We’ve had some huge kids before. We are just going to keep improving and getting better.”
The players could care less that they finished third behind New Canaan and Darien, teams they beat a year ago, in the opening poll.
“Yeah we like that,” Hancock said. “It motivates us because we know we can compete with the best in the state.”