SOUTHINGTON – One of the more difficult things the Darien football team had to deal with tonight was not celebrating after Will Kirby’s touchdown that gave the Blue Wave a nine-point lead with 5:04 remaining in the game.
It was not just that the run put the Blue Wave two scores ahead of Southington in the Class LL semifinals. It was more about how many points the Darien offense had scored on its previous four trips deep into Southington territory:
0, 0, 0, 0.
And now, finally, came seven wonderful points. So, a celebration of some sort would’ve been understandable. But the Blue Wave held it in … until five minutes and four seconds later, when its 21-12 victory was official. Darien (11-1) will now head to the Class LL state championship game to try to win its fourth title in five years.
“Every August we’re thinking of (reaching the state final), we don’t wait until December,” Darien coach Rob Trifone said after his third seeded team earned a berth opposite No. 1 Newtown (12-0) Saturday at 3 p.m. at Trumbull. “It’s been a hard road and Newtown will be a tough opponent.”
Newtown denied the Blue Wave a fourth straight title with a win last year in the quarterfinals.
Southington (10-2), seeded second, again proved to be a difficult opponent as well. The Blue Knights’ defense — along with the wet conditions — kept Darien’s offensive juggernaut in check for most of the contest. Each team got into the end zone twice in the first half but as the field and the ball got slicker, the second half yielded no points – until Kirby went around right end for 16 yards and ended Darien’s scoring drought.
“What were we, in the red zone, like 38 times and couldn’t score a point?” Trifone said. Darien came up short just before halftime, and then three more times in the second half. The Blue Wave got as deep as the Southington 7-, 11-, 8- and 11-yard lines, three times passing on a field-goal attempt and failing on fourth down, while Kirby fumbled on the fourth drive.
“It was definitely frustrating,” said Peter Graham, Darien’s first-team All-FCIAC quarterback. Despite the horrible conditions, Graham completed 15 of 33 pass attempts for 233 yards, two touchdowns and two second-half interceptions. “We got close four times with no points. But that last one sure felt great.”
Kirby, another first-team pick, finished with 87 yards on 23 attempts. The touchdown did indeed help wipe away the four red zone failures, and took some of the pressure off the coach who opted against trying for the three points on three of the drives.
“To be honest, we’ve struggled with field goals this year,” Trifone said. “But there were two reasons we didn’t kick the field goal: the other was that we wanted to pin them deep in their own territory.”
That’s where the defense comes in.
“After getting zero points on those four drives,” Graham said, “the defense really bailed us out.”
Teddy Christensen, Michael Minicus, Will Bothwell, Conner O’Malley, Jackson Walsh and David Evanchick led the defensive effort. In the second half — after Southington star running back Dillon Kohl rushed for 133 first-half yards and just 10 on six carries after halftime — the Blue Knights were held to 11 net yards of offense in the second half. Southington quarterback Brady Lafferty was just 3 for 19 in the second half for 21 yards.
Darien had 185 yards of offense in the second half.
“The wet conditions were not a major factor,” Southington coach Mike Drury said. “Darien adjusted well to Kohl after halftime but that wasn’t the only reason. We’ll have to evaluate why he wasn’t a factor in the second half.”
It was a great start for Darien. On the sixth play of its first possession, Graham completed a short pass to Austin Dehmel, who took it 32 yards for a 7-0 lead.
Before the first quarter was over, however, Southington got on the board. The Knights went 74 yards on 12 plays, the final one being a 25-yard scoring pass from Lafferty to Shane LaPorte, but the extra point was missed.
Southington then surprised the Blue Wave and recovered an onside kick, giving it the ball at the Darien 47. But on the first play Lafferty was hit by Bothwell on a broken play and fumbled, and the Blue Wave recovered. Five plays later it was Graham to Minicus from 11 yards out and Darien led 14-6.
Southington then moved 53 yards on six plays before Kohl went the final 34 when he broke three tackles. The Knights tried to make up for the earlier missed extra point but they failed on the two-point conversion.
Darien looked poised to increase its lead with its four red-zone drives after that, but came away empty each time. All was forgiven, however, when Kirby raced for the decisive score.
“This is the best feeling,” Trifone said. I’ve coached them since the third grade with my son. “It’s never easy getting here so I really feel blessed.”