In preparing for Sunday’s game with West Haven in the Class LL semifinals, Darien coach Rob Trifone feels like he has gone back in time.
“When you get a pure running team, which is what West Haven is, it is a little different animal,” Trifone said. “We understand their schemes. It is my old offense when we were at Brien McMahon. I’m watching the tape and I feel like I am watching my McMahon days. They run it extremely well. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The No. 3-seeded Blue Wave (10-1) are making a run at their third straight state title. They took the first step with a 30-10 quarterfinal win over East Hartford.
No. 7 West Haven (9-2) provided one of the most surprising quarterfinal outcomes, not because of the win over Shelton but the margin, 46-7.
“I have no idea how West Haven could have lost a game,” Trifone said. “They have the best offensive line I’ve seen and three of the best running backs that we’ve seen, and Shelton found that out Tuesday night. They’re a very good football team.”
That plays into a Darien strength. The defense has allowed just 72 points, and more than a third came in a 27-0 Thanksgiving loss to New Canaan. Two of the scores came on interception returns.
Trifone said his team has been trying to shield itself from the diversions that have occurred since three starters were arrested on the eve of the Turkey Bowl. Quarterback Jack Joyce returned for the East Hartford game, while Brian Minicus and an underaged player did not. Trifone said unless there are changes before kickoff he did not anticipate any changes in the status of the players.
“All you can do it play with what you’ve got and that’s what we plan on doing,” Trifone said. “When it comes to coaching and Xs and Os and stuff, the distraction doesn’t bother me. That doesn’t get in the way. I don’t sense anything from the kids. The distraction for me is more when I go home and have a chance to think about it. Instead of enjoying the greatest profession in the world, which I still think it is, you’ve got that on your head. Of course you love these kids, you discipline them like they’re your own sons. Like when you’re a parent.”
A look at the three other games.
No. 4 South Windsor (10-1) at No. 1 Greenwich (11-0)
The Cardinals’ dream season took another step forward with a 27-6 quarterfinal win over Fairfield Prep. The No. 1 team in the state has taken a step past last year, when the season ended in the first round with a loss to eventual champion Darien.
The Cardinals, who have mostly dominated opponents, probably will benefit from being locked in a one-score game until midway through the fourth quarter against Prep. They were not sharp — they have gone from upstart to target faster than expected — though credit the Jesuits for making the outcome difficult.
South Windsor will present different offensive looks that may take Greenwich time to find a comfort level. Everyone knows about the Greenwich offense, but the defense has been outstanding. Mozi Bici has been dominant on the line, along with Nicholas McIntosh. Jack Feda heads up the linebackers and Jeremiah Harris the secondary.
The Cardinals are one step away from returning to the final for the first time since winning the title 10 years ago.
No. 8 New Canaan (9-2) at No. 5 Masuk (10-1)
The Rams have slowly gained traction after a 3-2 start marred by a lack of discipline that caused repeated penalties. Many had the four-time defending champions making an early postseason exit, but the defense dominated in a 24-9 win over Middletown.
Grant Morse, the team’s best player, had seven tackles at linebacker and, in an overlooked contribution, remained perfect with his ninth field goal. Garrett Braden also delivered a strong performance.
Coach Lou Marinelli made a change before the Turkey Bowl with Darien, having more players go both ways and abandoning the no-huddle to compensate with added rest. So far that strategy has severed them well.
No. 3 Rocky Hill (11-0) at No. 2 St. Joseph (10-1)
Quarterback David Summers piling up the touchdowns while limiting the interceptions, a defense that remains dominant and a team now on the verge of getting back to the state final. The Cadets are sitting in a good place.
Not that the team needed a lift, but in retrospect the comeback from a 25-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat Ridgefield has provided extra propulsion and a confidence boost.