Football

Commentary: With No Title To Defend, Blue Wave Make Strong Opening Impression

Connor O’Malley celebates scoring Darien’s first points of the season. (Gregory Vasil)

DARIEN — Darien tonight looked like a team unaccustomed to not having a state title to defend. This was the Blue Wave’s plight for the first time in four years, and the edge it carried was evident in the performance that led to a 42-0 win over Fairfield Ludlowe.

“We came out and did everything I think we wanted to do,” linebacker Sam Wilson said. “Executed pretty well on both sides of the ball. This year one of our big emphases was coming out in the first half and just playing. Last year I’d say we were more of a second-half team and that kind of hurt us in the end.”

Wilson took care of that on tonight’s second play, when he intercepted a deflected ball. That set up the first of Connor O’Malley’s two short touchdown runs in the opening quarter. The Blue Wave built up a 36-0 halftime lead and coasted during a second half played mostly with a running clock.

“We did what we were supposed to do,” Darien coach Rob Trifone said. “We played solid defense, moved the ball on offense. Special teams need some work.”

Darien quarterback Peter Graham releases a pass. (Gregory Vasil)

Darien was on course for a chance at a four-peat last fall, rolling to a 9-0 start. Then came a Turkey Bowl loss to New Canaan, followed by a state quarterfinal defeat to Newtown.

Tonight a new season started with a two-game losing streak.

Most impressive but not surprising was the play of quarterback Peter Graham, who has come out second in battles for the starting job the last two years before claiming it for himself. He looked more four-year starter in picking apart a young Ludlowe defense.

“Peter has had a wonderful offseason and a wonderful preseason,” Trifone said. “The most impressive thing is how poised he is. Does he look like a first-year quarterback?”

Graham threw just one touchdown pass, to Sean Gifford, but two long completions led to a pair of short scoring runs and a 26-yard keeper set up a third.

Darien’s Austin Dehmel makes a catch for a big gain. (Gregory Vasil)

“Me and my teammates just went out there and its good to come out with the dub,” Graham said. “It’s all I could ask for, that’s starting for Darien and it’s finally here.”

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The offensive line was impressive, and the Blue Wave again has a stable of receivers — Gifford, Jackson Peters, Austin Dehmel, Michael Minicus — with good hands and the ability to get open.

“Peter’s great,” Wilson said. “I know he’s definitely been through some tough times the past two years. I think tonight solidified that he’s here ready to ball. He’s been playing the best I’ve ever seen him play this year and I think he showed it tonight.”

Ludlowe quarterback Quinn Pavoz throws a pass against Darien. (Gregory Vasil)

Wilson, it turns out, is not too shabby carrying the ball, as evidenced by the way he broke tackles on a 40-yard interception return.

“Last year I had a couple of dropped ones so I was excited to get one today,” Wilson said.

It was a tough night for the Falcons, who came out of nowhere to go 7-3 a year ago. The score was not indicative, but they showed enough tonight to offer optimism. They may not be ready to compete against the FCIAC’s elite, but it will be interesting to see how they fare with the rest of the league.

Ludlowe runs a creative offense and has a roster perhaps a year away from duplicating last year’s magic.

Callum McNear carries the ball into the end zone for the Blue Wave. (Gregory Vasil)

And the large crowd of fans that made the trip from Fairfield was proof of how coach Mitch Ross has changed the culture of the sport at the school in just two years.

The Blue Wave has higher hopes, the same it carries into every season. Next week offers a big test at home against Southington.

“We’ve seen all the rankings and we know we haven’t been where we want,” Wilson said. “We like that. We kind of like being underrated. I don’t think we have that pressure on us that we’ve had in past years.”