DARIEN — It is time for the Darien football team to modify and then adopt a familiar sports phrase: The results stay the same, and so do the names.
The story of the Blue Wave’s 42-10 win over St. Joseph today, which reinforced them as the clear-cut favorites for a third straight state title and No. 1 ranking, was the defense.
There was Drew Evanchick, putting pressure on St. Joseph quarterback David Summers. Linebacker Connor Fay was all over the field taking down runners, while Brian Minicus teamed with Nick Green to shut down the Cadets’ Jared Mallozzi, arguably the state’s best receiver, in what was a pivotal matchup to the outcome. John Lochtefield was making plays.
Those were just a few of the standouts on defense, and there were several other members with older siblings who have contributed to a run that has now reached 28 straight wins for Darien (3-0), the state’s No. 1 team in the polls.
The members of the defensive line was more amused than upset by the preseason storyline of how Darien needed to find four new starters to replace its best unit from a year ago.
“We hear that all the time,” said Mike Neary, who helped lead the pass rush and the protection on offense. “We graduated (Mark) Evanchick, (Andrew) Stueber. It’s no big deal for us.”
The chess match between Mallozzi and the Blue Wave’s vaunted secondary, along with line play, seemed to be the keys to victory. Darien felt it had the skill up front to make strategic moves on pass defense. With Green and Minicus shadowing him, Mallozzi finished with just one catch for 1 yard, a number Green was both aware and most proud of afterward.
“We know Mallozzi is a very good receiver,” Green said. “We basically put myself and Brian Minicus on him the whole game and held him very well. That’s what we do on defense. We basically doubled him. If they went to a trips formation we had a different variation but the D line, we knew we were bigger and they got it done today and we got it done in the secondary.”
Green compared it to last year’s state championship game and going against Ridgefield’s Chris Longo.
St. Joseph quarterback David Summers adjusted and had a big day hooking up with Jesse Bike, but those were mostly bends in the Darien defense.
The Cadets, who came in as the No. 3 team in the state, recovered a fumble at the Darien 22 on the second play of the game, but were held to a field goal. Summers hit Bike on a 32-yard play to cut the deficit to 14-10 with 9:57 left in the half.
That was it.
“We wanted to come in with a five-box,” Darien coach Rob Trifone said. “With a spread offense you have to run the ball, with six in coverage. He came out running the ball, we made a little adjustment defensively, stayed with our five box. The defensive line picked it up after the first quarter.”
St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia said he felt comfortable down just 21-10 at the half. He didn’t expect to be shut out the rest of the way.
“We thought we could do some other things but we didn’t protect,” Della Vecchia said. “You can’t play first and 20 as many times as we did. We were in a hole and I thought the second half we came out with no energy. You can’t do that. They don’t make mistakes and they are very confident in what they do, and that’s the difference. I thought we came out of the first half in good shape and then nothing.”
The Darien offense more than held up its end. Mitchell Pryor rushed for 118 yards and three scores. He is money in short-yardage situations.
“Pryor is one heck of a kid,” Trifone said. “When he gets his shoulders north and south it’s hard to stop that kid.”
Then there is quarterback Jack Joyce, a Trifone favorite, who did a good job with both arm and feet. He had a 22-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Burke in the second half and should have been credited with one for 44 yards in the first, but Burke was stripped of the ball near the goal line.
This being Darien, Tyler Herget — another sibling — was on the spot for the recovery and score.
“Hats off to St. Joe’s,” Trifone said. “They’re a great football team. They had us scared to death. Our kids played well today except for the penalties and a couple of special team mistakes.”
Trifone said the key to this year’s fast start was seeded last December, the Monday after the state championship win. Trifone told the returning players they had a week off before returning to the weight room. The players dissented.
They wanted to get right back to work.
“I said OK,” Trifone said. “I’m not going to turn a kid away who wants to get into the weight room. They have bought in so much to the strength and conditioning program.”
Most of all, the Blue Wave have bought into winning and trophies.
Said Neary, “We want to keep that win streak going, not only for us in the future but for the past.”