Darien coach Rob Trifone cannot recall the last time his team has played a bigger regular-season game before the annual Turkey Bowl with New Canaan. For St. Joseph’s Joe Della Vecchia, it was four years ago, in the eighth week of the season, when his team was ranked No. 3 in the state and the Rams No. 2, both with 7-0 records.
That gets updated Saturday afternoon, when the Cadets travel to Darien. What looked like a strong matchup two weeks ago between the Blue Wave, the Class LL champion, and St. Joseph, a Class M finalist, was elevated in importance after the Cadets defeated the Rams, ranked No. 1 in the preseason state poll, 38-35.
“You’ve got an interesting situation,” Trifone said. “If ever St. Joseph was able to beat us, then they just kind of waltz through the (mythical) FCIAC championship.”
If you want to look far into the future, a scenario could be set up where Darien wins this weekend, then loses to New Canaan. If all three schools went on to win state titles, were 1-1 against each other and no other school goes undefeated, who would be No. 1? (Probably the Rams since they would have won 12 straight).
Right now neither team is looking past Saturday, when the Cadets will have a chance to beat two No. 1 teams in three weeks, a feat that may have never been accomplished. It would at the very least further elevate their status.
“I don’t know if being the No. 1 team in the state at the end of the year is a goal that we ever put up,” Della Vecchia said. “I think everybody wants to be that. Our goals have always been the same, winning season, qualify for the playoffs and win a championship. We know this is our only opportunity to get that but it doesn’t destroy our season to get everything else. It would be really nice to get that. That’s so hard to do and especially going against a team that has been No. 1 the last two years, and they’re just as good as they’ve been.”
Darien, riding a 25-game winning streak at the time and back to back No. 1 finishes in the state, had a bit of a test on opening week as well, against a Ridgefield team whose status rose throughout the preseason. Many wondered if the Blue Wave would suffer from having to rebuild both lines. They won the game, 38-12.
“I have to say our team is very business like,” Trifone said. “Same thing, when we went to Ridgefield it was a big game and there was no hype, which I kind of liked. They’ve got a job to do and then they do it.”
Della Vecchia said he has never beaten both New Canaan and Darien in the same season. To do so, he has a check list of what the Cadets need to accomplish.
“We have to protect the quarterback,” Della Vecchia said. That’s been our priority since the New Canaan game. He got hit too many times and we’ve got a lot of work to do to fix that. We have to be able to run the ball.
“On defense, we can’t let them get in a rhythm. They’re really good at what they do. It seems like every year there is a new quarterback and they are doing the same stuff and it works. We have to be very good at recognizing routes and being in a good position to make plays on defense. At the same time trying to control the line of scrimmage. We were successful in pressuring New Canaan and forcing them to scramble a lot. Not being able to get rid of the ball on time. We’re going to have to be real successful doing that again.”
Line play of course is going to be critical for both sides. Another interesting dynamic will be St. Joseph wide receiver Jared Mallozzi going against the Darien secondary.
“Obviously they are extremely skilled, top to bottom,” Trifone said. No question Mallozzi is the best receiver in the league, if not the state, but they also have Nos. 41, 2, 82, 85 and of course they have (Jaden) Shirden running the ball.” Trifone was referring, respectively, to Philip Pasmeg, Jesse Bike, Will Diamantis and Leo Caserta.
“Obviously you have one of the best receiving corps in the state and we have a great secondary, which is obviously playing well right now,” Trifone said.
Trifone said the Blue Wave, with Jack Joyce, who is off to a good start at quarterback, and offensive weapons like Max Grant, Nick Green and Mitchell Pryor, will need to control the ball as well.
“They’re a big blitzing defense and they always play very hard, whether they’re young or not, and all these kids played last year and they are back,” Trifone said. “We need to be consistent on offense and not go three and out. It doesn’t mean you have to score every time you get the ball, but you have to move the ball and win the battle of field position. They are going to make it tough.”
The Cadets have the toughest early season schedule perhaps of any team in the state. A win would put them in an enviable position.
Darien wants to avoid a rare early-season loss.
“I told the kids this early this week, I always enjoy coaching in a big game and they’re going to enjoy playing in a big game, Trifone said.