Many have been the times the Turkey Bowl between Darien and New Canaan has been decided by a momentum-changing play.
There are many areas heading into Thursday’s game where the teams are similar. The quarterbacks — Drew Pyne of the Rams and Peter Graham of the Blue Wave — are among the state leaders in a number of categories.
It is certainly plausible Thursday’s game could turn on a disruptive sack that forces a turnover, causes a team to punt or puts the pressure on an offense to convert on a third and long situation.
Both teams come in with top seniors who rank with the best in the state at controlling the line of scrimmage. No doubt this week’s practices have been spent on schemes trying to contain Darien defensive lineman Will Bothwell and New Canaan outside linebacker Chris Carratu. They are tied for fifth in the state according to MaxPreps with 11 sacks apiece.
“Will is one of our silent leaders,” Darien coach Rob Trifone said. “He doesn’t say a lot, at least not to me. He’s always in the weight room in the offseason, at camps and works his tail off every day. We can’t block him when we’re running our offense. He’s just so quick. That’s the key to his success. And he understands the game well so he knows when he is being trapped or optioned. Things like that he struggled with a little as a junior and then got better and got even better this year.”
Bothwell received much more playing time last year than Carratu, who mostly got into the second halves of games playing behind Garrett Braden.
“He’s a big strong kid, he played behind a good player last year,” New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said. “He got limited time and he made the best of it. We thought physically it was really important to him and he kept on working, kept on working. We did expect him to be a starter. We didn’t expect him to have the year that he’s had. He’s been tremendous.”
Both Bothwell and Carritu said they learned how to be leaders that are looked up to from the players they once wanted to emulate.
“I looked up to Mike Neary a lot and Connor Fay, even though he played linebacker,” Bothwell said. “I’m just trying to act like them on the field and hopefully lead the younger kids in the right direction. You can’t get hung up on a play if it doesn’t go your way. You have to keep an upbeat tone and tempo and just hope that it goes your way.”
For Carratu it was Garrett Braden, who is now playing at Rice.
“He was an idol to me,” Carratu said. “All the stuff I’m able to do now is from watching him, watching him play and learning from what he could do. It has been very reaffirming seeing how much work you did in the offseason to seeing it pay off on the field. It’s just a great feeling.”
Bothwell has been helped by the emergence of David Evanchick, a sophomore who has 10 sacks. His older brother Mark set the state sack record and as a senior was the Connecticut Player of the Year.
Asked if opponents are playing him differently as the season has gone on, Bothwell said, “I’ve noticed that some of the bigger kids on the offensive line have come to my side but Evanchick also draws attention. He’s right on my heels. He’s just keeping me on my toes and pushing me harder every day.”
Carratu has also attracted more company compared to two months ago.
“I notice some occasional double teams and scheming away from my side but for the most part it’s here and there,” Carratu said. “You get that a lot and you have to play against it.”
Added Marinelli, “They pay a lot more attention to him. I’m sure Darien is going to pay a lot more attention to him. He’s responded well to it. He’s a wonderful kid to coach and a wonderful teammate to have.”
Darien comes into the game as the top team in the Class LL rankings. New Canaan is fourth in Class L.
Not surprisingly when Bothwell and Carratu were asked the keys to Thursday’s game, they had the same response: the need to stay focused and disciplined.
“Every game matters but this one we are going to put in a little extra,” Bothwell said.