GREENWICH — Marj Trifone thought her husband was joking when she was told of his intention to coach their son’s third-grade football team.
My son is a senior, back in the day whenever that was 10 years ago I said to my wife look, I’m not going to let somebody else coach my own kid and kids,” Darien football coach Rob Trifone said tonight, after his team’s heart-pounding 27-21 win over Greenwich. “I’m going to do it. She said you’re going to do what. You’re going to coach high school and you’re going to coach youth and I said yeah. We’re become very close over those years and I said I love those boys.”
Trifone had used that word — love — when he spoke to his players, his son Mark and many of those third-graders, following the dramatic victory, a game that lived up to the advanced word, between the teams ranked third (Greenwich) and fourth (Darien) in the state. This was not someone loosely using a word describing strong emotion in the aftermath of an emotional win.
Trifone discussed his sentiments about this group when I attended practice in August, and how high the ceiling was for success.
That was evident in a game of dramatic momentum swings and an unusual finish that was the topic of conversation afterward.
Darien scored the game’s first 21 points, Greenwich the next 21. The Blue Wave (6-0), after several exchanges of defensive stops, went ahead when quarterback Peter Graham threw his third touchdown pass of the day and second to Jackson Peters, with 7:25 remaining. A blocked extra point left the score at 27-21 and seemed like it would prove significant.
Two more punts and the Cardinals took over at their 40 with 2:49 left. Quarterback James Rinello took turns hitting AJ Barber and Kobe Comizio. A completion on third and long to Mason Muir appeared to give the Cardinals a first down at the 13.
But the play turned out to be a yard short, and when Rinello spiked the ball to stop the clock with four seconds left, the game was over. Greenwich (5-1) lost for the first time since the 2017 state final against the Blue Wave, a streak of 18 games.
“The kids thought it was a first down,” said Anthony Morello, the Cardinals’ first-year coach. “That’s my fault because we haven’t brought out sticks and chains and run anything where we had a third-and-long situation where we had very little time left and we’ve got to run a second play. I told the kids get a first down and spike it. I take full responsibility for it.”
No one knows what might have happened on a final play, just another reason a rematch in the Class LL playoffs would prove such a gift.
During a season with few big games and fewer memorable ones, early on this seemed like another one that would disappoint. Graham drove Darien 61 yards on its first possession, which ended with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Peters after two stops from the 1 and a false start.
Peters’ interception and return led to Ryan Mulliken’s 21-yard touchdown catch late in the opening quarter.
Will Kirby made it 21-0 with a 3-yard run at the start of the second quarter.
And it looked like the half would end that way, until Rinello hit Comizio on a 65-yard play with 58 seconds left.
Greenwich forced a fumble on the second-half kickoff and Hunter Clark scored on a 10-yard run to narrow the deficit to 21-14. Now it was the Cardinals’ defense that took over, and AJ Barber’s 24-yard reception tied the game with 3:40 left in the third.
“Twenty-one to nothing, we wanted to keep it going,” said Darien linebacker Sam Wilson, who again was all over the field making plays. “We thought we had executed well and we had shut it down. But obviously as you guys saw they came back, but we knew still it was a tie game. If we knew going into the game that it was going to be tied going into the fourth quarter, we’d take that every time. We knew we had to go out and survive, forget about what happened and keep on playing.”
As the skies darkened on a beautiful late October afternoon, the defenses stiffened, and then the Blue Wave had a narrow lead to protect.
“During that last drive that was what we were saying, this is what we were made for,” Wilson said. “We wanted it to come down on us. PG (Graham) played very well. That last drive by him was sick. Coming from everything that he’s been through, I’m so happy for him.”
Trifone said he thought he had a clear read on the frantic and ultimately confusing finish.
“Obviously we thought the clock was ticking, that they were going to get one more play off,” Trifone said. “Then when I saw them line up like that I thought it was a fake, which I was calling out. When he spiked the ball I was like, OK, I think it’s our ball.”
Morello was too hard on himself in a refreshingly admirable way afterward.
“It’s my first year and I am making mistakes; I made mistakes tonight,” Morello said. “If we do our job for the next four weeks, if we’re lucky we’ll get an opportunity to redeem ourselves. They’re a great football team. We can play with them. We had a chance to win at the end of the game. We just didn’t execute when we needed to. It’s not on the kids.”
Darien all but clinched a state playoff berth while it is hard to see a road where the Cardinals fail to qualify, the two teams that have accounted for the last four LL titles.
Tonight, however, was about living — and for Trifone, loving — in the moment without looking ahead.
“Going into it we knew they were going to be a very good team with a lot of talent,” Wilson said. “Coach T, what he really preaches is controlling hype. We knew we had to come in here and not be too excited. We stayed even-keeled the whole time. They came out and gave us a great punch but we came out and survived.”