STAMFORD — For the past 11 days, since the arrest of three starters on Thanksgiving Eve, the Darien football team has operated under a microscope. The assessment of the Blue Wave’s subsequent four games comes down square on the line of partiality.
If you are a Darien fan, the loss to New Canaan on Thanksgiving comes with an asterisk. If you are not a Darien fan, the three state playoff wins, including today’s 31-22 Class LL final against Greenwich, come with asterisks.
The situation no doubt has been a distraction for the Blue Wave, the incident, no matter what happens going forward, unfortunate. Despite what people think — and judging from the comments section, they have a lot to say — this has been no fun for the local media. Trust me when I say we do this job because we prefer our time spent reporting accomplishments that happen on the field.
It has been a story impossible to avoid because when three starters, no matter the reason, are not playing for what was and may still end up being the No. 1 football team in the state, it is sports news.
Then again, what you think of us again probably comes down to partiality. We are guilty of writing about it too much or not enough.
We briefly bring this up not to rehash the 11 days, but as context in the hope that, at least for the next 24 hours in this era of short attention spans, we can cast them aside to focus on what happened this morning at Boyle Stadium.
A great team — Darien — defeated a great team — Greenwich — in a great game, at a great venue, under a steady snow that added to the day being, well, great.
“I could not be prouder of a group of 55 young men that never looked back,” Darien coach Rob Trifone said. “After that Turkey Bowl and people counted us out. Teenagers could easily have folded. I made sure that wasn’t going to happen. I had a few words of encouragement. We really got after them and they started to really believe in themselves. We had guys stepping up all over the place as you saw today.”
“Although we came up short, the direction of the program and how we develop young men on and off the field and in the classroom and the community, we’ve come a long way,” Greenwich coach John Marinelli said. “This is going to hurt for them but they should hold their heads up high. The way they represented this town and this program, I can’t say enough about them.”
Both coaches rightfully had the right to express pride. The Cardinals caused the Blue Wave to summon the heart of a champion, and that call was answered.
There was excellence all over the field under adverse conditions — the Cardinals’ Zach Moore making three field goals, including two from 36 and 38 yards — Darien’s Austin Hagander nailed a 37-yarder — among the most notable. The quarterbacks — Darien’s Jack Joyce and Greenwich’s Gavin Muir — used elusiveness and pocket poise to escape pressure, keep plays alive and complete highlight-reel passes.
Greenwich’s Tyler Blizzard applied consistent pressure and came through with two sacks. Darien’s Mike Neary was close to unblockable, especially late in the game. Darien’s Tyler Herget and Greenwich’s Jael Negron made acrobatic touchdown catches.
This was tit-for-tat football.
Take away the Cardinals being stopped on a fourth-down play deep in their own territory late and this was a two-point game.
And on another day — preferably a snowy one — it easily could have been the Cardinals ending up as two-point winners, with their first state title in a decade.
The teams are that close.
Instead, the Blue Wave won their third straight state title, no easy feat in the always competitive Class LL. Their players seemed to, and should, take pride that their achievement came against a worthy opponent.
“Greenwich did a really good job,” said Darien linebacker Connor Fay. “They are such a balanced offense. We had to stop the run, stop the pass, their special teams are great. We had to fight to the last second.”
When Marinelli took over at Greenwich, he talked about a five-year plan. His team has arrived two years earlier than expected.
Many of the Cardinals’ major contributors are returning, and while this season still has three more games to go on Monday before being complete, right now one has to think Greenwich may reclaim the No. 1 spot in the polls come early next September.
Hopefully, at that time, the lingering memory of the 2017 season will be a great game, between two great teams, at a great venue on a wonderful snowy day.