Darien coach Rob Trifone and several of his players discussed Saturday afternoon, after an emphatic 22-7 win over No. 1 St. Joseph, how they were coming off their best week of practice.
Such focus is a microcosm for what has helped the Blue Wave to three straight Class LL titles. Trifone traditionally gives his players a week off after the end of each season before they return to the weight room. Most of them instead are back lifting the next Monday.
If talent has been Darien’s greatest commodity, work ethic is next on the list. They return to training right away because there is another championship to chase, and they have a good week of practice because there is a big game to be won.
“We look to the grade that graduated before us and we know that we have big shoes to fill, and we’re just going to keep trying to fill them,” junior defensive end Will Bothwell, who was outstanding against the Cadets, explained.
Over the course of a year, the Darien players probably spend the most time with John Carlozzi, their strength and conditioning coach. The sense of pride is palpable.
Then, of course, Trifone keeps getting a strong class of players each year, and perhaps it is time that we should not equate lack of name recognition with a dropoff in skill level.
David Summers drove St. Joseph down the field after the opening kickoff. He converted third-down plays, scrambled for yardage when receivers weren’t open and then found running back Jaden Shirden alone for a 25-yard touchdown.
According to Trifone, there was a defensive mixup in which middle linebacker Connor Fay did not receive the call and failed to cover Shirden.
It hardly mattered: the Blue Wave defense pitched a shutout the rest of the day against one of the state’s best offenses, even if St. Joseph was missing Phil Pasmeg, its top receiver.
“Outside of that play our defense played lights out,” Trifone said. “Summers, he’s as good as it gets. And Shirden, I told them is one of the best backs in the state. They’re big up front and we’re not. We’re quick up front. Our men rose to the challenge.”
The most impressive play of the day may have been one when Fay knew his assignment. This time he was matched up with Shirden and stayed with him in stride, breaking up a pass play that against most other teams would have gone for a touchdown.
The Blue Wave had a number of defenders with between six to eight tackles, a testament to the strengths all over the field.
Meanwhile, quarterback Cooper Hancock was almost perfect in the second half and finished 18 of 25 for 247 yards. His poise for a first-year starter is remarkable, and becoming Darien’s fourth straight player at the position to win a state title is very much on his radar.
“It’s just part of the system,” Hancock said. “We always rebuild. It seems to work for us the last four years. I look forward to another year with it.”
As far as receivers, the Blue Wave have tremendous depth, highlighted by Tyler Herget, who leads the team with 14 receptions, one ahead of Will Rolapp. TJ Cornacchia and Peter Bredahl have eight each.
“We’re blessed with a number of receivers who can catch the ball and Cooper Hancock did a great job of distributing it all over the field,” Trifone said.
With just two starting linemen back — both on the offensive side of the ball — Hancock had time to pass and did now allow Summers to get into a rhythm after the opening quarter.
“I couldn’t believe what a job our kids did on both sides of the ball up front,” Trifone said.
Unless you believe there is a seismic upset on the horizon — Staples could be 4-0 when the teams meet a week from Saturday — the Blue Wave should be unbeaten heading into the Thanksgiving game with New Canaan. Perhaps a meeting with Greenwich will happen again in the playoffs.
“Our kids just keep raising the bar higher and jumping up to get it,” Trifone said before getting on the bus Saturday for the happy ride home. “We had a phenomenal week of practice and it showed today.”
1. Greenwich (2-0). I keep the Cardinals in the top spot for the same reason I did after New Canaan’s loss to St. Joseph: they haven’t done anything for me to bump them down from my previous pick.
2. Darien (3-0). Those of us who weren’t certain how good the Blue Wave are because of graduation losses got our answer Saturday.
3. St. Joseph (2-1). A 10-game winning streak and Class M title, a very likely scenario, would not be a bad consolation prize.
4. New Canaan (2-1). The Rams’ offense finally operated as envisioned for the last two and one-half quarters against Trumbull.
5. Staples (3-0). With a win over Ridgefield, the Wreckers will be unbeaten to add a little juice for the game the following week against Darien.