DARIEN — Has there ever been a No. 1 high school football team in the state — one that finished last year in the top spot — that has generated less buzz than Darien so far with just a few weeks left in the regular season?
This is by no means an indictment on the Blue Wave, but instead the result of a confluence of events. If not for the controversy following the suspension(s) of coach Rob Trifone, we might have to send out a search team.
Saturday’s 35-3 win over Wilton is not likely to get the silent trumpets blaring yet. Darien was flat for most of the first half. Cord Fox hit Warriors quarterback Matt D’Elisa, resulting in Nick Green’s interception return for a touchdown on the first play.
The Blue Wave’s first possession was an eight-play, 70-yard drive climaxed by the first of Brian Peters’ three touchdown passes, 21 yards to Tim Herget. Less than four minutes in Darien had a 14-0 lead. The numbers on its side of the scoreboard did not change until after halftime.
“We started out slowly offensively,” said Finlay Collins, one of Darien’s two-way players. “A lot of mistakes we need to improve going into next week, but we took care of the game, kept on pushing and played well after halftime. If we are going to play with the teams we play the next couple of weeks, we have to do better.”
Darien scored on its first two possessions of the second half and rolled to a 7-0 mark. The team seems to be like a piece on a board game that lands on a bonus spot that allows it to slide to the desired destination. How many people — and for how long? — have just been counting down the days to the Turkey Bowl and then the state playoffs?
Think about it. The Blue Wave have been No. 1 in Class LL, but most of the narrative in the FCIAC this season has revolved around the battle between Ridgefield, Greenwich, Trumbull and Staples to join them in the state playoffs. Only the Tigers right now would have a spot if the season ended today, and they would be the No. 8 seed and face Darien in the opening round.
Tackle Andrew Stueber, one of the few returning starters, admitted there was a palpable difference between last fall and this one.
“Last year we had all the hype around us and this year we’re still No. 1 and everything but we’re less buzzed about,” Stueber said. “I don’t like the hype around us sometimes. To be No. 1 but under the radar, not too much focus on us, it’s been good.”
The schedule has not helped. Wins against St. Joseph and Norwich Free Academy look better in retrospect but were games not highly anticipated because the opponents were of unknown status at the time. Only the 42-35 win over Greenwich provided any drama, albeit plenty.
“I think we kind of like being in that position,” Collins said. “A lot of teams are undervaluing us. We’re just going to keep trying to improve so when we have those bigger games we’re ready for them.”
When the clock strikes midnight, if you are reading this on Saturday, Trifone’s suspension, first two weeks, then extended to four, will be over (we hope). Trifone is so amped up to return that if the Darien stadium had lights — there is no program issue we cannot address in this one column! — he would hold an optional practice at 12:01.
“Not having Coach T the past three or four weeks has been really tough on our team and we have bonded as a group and it has only helped us,” Collins said.
Trifone was initially suspended two weeks for slapping the helmet of a player he feared was on the verge of being ejected. Double jeopardy came when video was produced that verified the act.
When Trifone told his players two weeks ago about the added punishment, they showed up at his home that night in a show of support.
“I wouldn’t say it has been a distraction but it has forced more people to step up and take a leadership role,” Collins said. “We’ve done that and done a great job bouncing back. We’re excited to get him back next week and get back on track.”
In a lackluster FCIAC weekend, the game at Darien was the only one between teams with winning records. Wilton (4-3) gave its typical all-out effort but lacked the size and athleticism for a fair fight.
“I thought we fought, I thought we hung in there,” Wilton coach Bruce Cunningham said. “We obviously wanted to execute a little better; we didn’t. Our timing was a little off in the passing game, but that’s a credit to them. If we get better from this then it doesn’t sting as much.”
Still, it was a 14-3 game at the break. Trifone likely would have had some choice words before his team returned to the field.
“It has been tough,” Stueber said. “He knows how to motivate a team, rally a team so when he’s not there we lose a dynamic. In practice, in the locker room.”
That dynamic returns on Sunday. The second to last game of the season with Staples has lost some luster because of the Wreckers’ recent slump, though they are still very much in the state playoff hunt and can add juice back to the game with a win next week against St. Joseph.
If not? New Canaan is on the clock.