With No Title To Defend, Darien Motivated For Deep Postseason Run

Coach Rob Trifone is intent on pointing the Blue Wave back on the path to a state championship. (Dave Ruden)

DARIEN — This has not been a pleasant offseason for the Darien football team. With the measuring bar state championships, it failed to make it past the first round of the playoffs last fall.

The anger was seen in the weight room, the 7 on 7 fields and anywhere else the Blue Wave players prepared for the season.

Opening day is less than two weeks away and the team is confident the pieces are in place to make a run at four titles in five years.

Backstory

It was business as usual for the Blue Wave through the first nine games a year ago. It was unbeaten, including an impressive road win at St. Joseph, which was coming off a victory against New Canaan.

Then came a Thanksgiving loss by a field goal to the Rams, followed by a 26-16 defeat to Newtown in the state quarterfinals. Now the Blue Wave, after three straight years as a CIAC champion, opens with no title to defend.

“This group has been pissed off, for lack of a better phrase, since Newtown,” Trifone said. “It reminds me of 2015. We lost to New Canaan by one point in the state final and that’s all they ever talked about. The weight room and summer camps, Newtown, Newtown. Sometimes you have to lose to get that fire back in your belly. This group has taken it personally. If that’s what it takes so be it.”

Darien’s offense was more pedestrian than in recent seasons. It only averaged 95 yards per game on the ground behind an offensive line that lacked the size the unit had been known for.

The defense was much more formidable. There were 30 sacks and 70 tackles for losses. The best news? Most of those came from players returning this year.

Peter Graham takes over at quarterback for Darien. (Dave Ruden)

Storylines

In what has become a recent annual pattern, the Blue Wave will again have a new quarterback. Peter Graham has been waiting in the wings for the last two years. At 6-4, he would have started for most teams but got caught in the Blue Wave’s numbers game.

Expect this transition to be seamless.

“I cannot be more pleased with Peter,” Trifone said. “He worked very hard in the offseason. He looks great throwing the ball, he looks great running the ball, he’s commanding the offense the way he should. He’s doing all of the intangibles that you are never sure a quarterback can do.”

Will Kirby returns at running back, but otherwise most of the players that will be running with and catching the ball are newcomers.

The offensive line has three starters back. Trifone said he will use a rotation of eight players. While the group lacks experience, the size will be very apparent.

“It all starts with the O-Line obviously,” linebacker Sam Wilson said. “All the years we won states we had good O-linemen. I think if we can protect PG we’re going to do very well. Our receivers, even though they’re all new, are good.”

The defense will be an obvious strength, with the line led by Will Bothwell and Charlie Hunter. Wilson and JH Slonieski are playmakers at linebacker and the secondary could be one of the best in the state.

Player To Watch

Connor O’Malley. O’Malley saw time in two games last season as a sophomore.

“He’s a starting corner and rotates in at slot,” Trifone said. “He’s a very unassuming kid that can do it all. They’ve heard names like Sam Wilson and JH Slonieski, Peter Graham and Jackson Peters. Connor O’Malley is going to be in on a lot of big plays. If he’s a dark horse it’s only because he’s a junior rather than a senior.”

The Blue Wave again has size on the offensive line. (Dave Ruden)

Outlook

As Trifone said, the failure at achieving a four-peat is a hot topic for the Darien players, an oft-talked about motivator.

“We haven’t been ranked high, which we like,” Wilson said. “We’ve kind of been the hunter the last few years and we’re excited to be the hunters. We don’t have a lot of big names, All-FCIAC or All-State guys, but we’re excited to show people what we’ve got.”

Having seen each of the top four state playoff contenders in the last 10 days, I have no idea how to rank them. Each has certainties and question marks.

For the Blue Wave, the latter is how big the contributions will be from players we have not yet heard of.

“We’ve had a very good preseason,” Trifone said. “I’m pleased where everyone is. Right now we’re injury-free. I think the team is progressing as we need to. Lets see which young players come through and which don’t. I’ll know more once we see how the young guys react.”

Schedule

Sept. 13 FAIRFIELD LUDLOWE 7 p.m.
Sept. 20 SOUTHINGTON 7 p.m.
Sept. 28 at Westhill 1 p.m.
Oct. 4 at Trumbull 7 p.m.
Oct. 19 TRINITY/WRIGHT TECH 1:30 p.m.
Oct. 26 at Greenwich 4 p.m.
Nov. 1 at Danbury 7 p.m.
Nov. 9  BRIDGEPORT CENTRAL 1:30 p.m.
Nov. 15 at Norwalk 7 p.m.
Nov. 28 NEW CANAAN 10:00 a.m.

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