DARIEN — Did you hear the one about the high school football conference that stirred controversy by taking a game away from 14 of its 17 schools to preserve a championship, only to get the very final it would have had without the self-imposed legislation?
OK, OK, it is easy to make jokes after Darien’s 27-0 win over Staples on Saturday afternoon assured the Blue Wave again facing New Canaan for the FCIAC title on Thanksgiving morning. It is the final we pretty much expected though couldn’t guarantee when the scheduling debates were ongoing.
There was not much added to the narrative as the pre-holiday portion of the regular season was wrapped up. Few gave the Wreckers (6-2) a chance, and the outcome reaffirmed that Darien and New Canaan played on a different plane from the rest of the league.
Staples is a solid team that still may get a chance to play in the state tournament. But it is reliant on a running game led by Ethan Burger, who went down with a knee injury on the game’s first play. And run defense is one of the Blue Wave’s many strengths.
Playing in its first big game in over a month, Darien (8-0) won with ease despite some sloppiness that was reminiscent of the way it opened last season.
“Today was the first game that we were sloppy with the ball, and we hadn’t been all year long,” Darien coach Rob Trifone said. “We have to clean that up because that was one of our biggest goals this year, to take care of the ball.”
Darien went with a very effective short passing game engineered by quarterback Timmy Graham, who threw for over 300 yards, with two of his three touchdown passes going to his favorite target, Colin Minicus.
The Blue Wave controlled the first half yet led by only 14-0, and that was aided by two blocked punts and another that was deflected. Trifone said they spotted on tape a weakness they felt could be exploited.
The afternoon was a coronation for Darien defensive end Mark Evanchick, who recorded his much-anticipated, state-record-breaking 60th and a half sack right before halftime. Evanchick added two more for good measure, and the end of the game was a well-deserved celebration for the humble star.
Evanchick’s father came down from the stands to embrace him, and Evanchick spent much of the time after the game, between taping interviews, reveling with his family. He admitted the countdown was more of a distraction, and Trifone agreed it was nice to have the chase out of the way as a possible New Canaan subplot.
“It was pretty special,” Trifone said. “If you do it in a game that’s 49-0, it is not quite as special. To do it in a game that means something, it was great for Mark.”
There have been too many 49-0 games this year. Staples actually gave the Blue Wave their biggest test of the season and allowed them to keep their starters in for some necessary fourth-quarter work without seeming merciless.
“Our kids were looking forward to this,” Trifone said. “They knew it would be a challenge. They figured it would be a game like this.”
If we knew then what we do now. We could have set up a nice three-tiered system. Darien and New Canaan could have played a best of nine series. The below .500 schools could have had a competitive round-robin. And we would have had a very compelling division with teams like Staples, Trinity Catholic, St. Joseph, Ridgefield, Trumbull, Greenwich and Norwalk, which gave us our best games of the year when facing one another.
“Right now I like to think the best two teams are playing in the FCIAC final,” Trifone said. “It might be the last one.”
The first part of Trifone’s statement is beyond dispute. The second is a headache we can table for another month.