STAMFORD — It isn’t often the No. 1 team in the state, coming off its biggest win of the season, would feel like it had something to prove, but that was the mindset for Darien on Tuesday night as it set out to pursue a second straight CIAC Class LL title.
The Blue Wave were hosting Greenwich, a team they defeated in a shootout, 42-35, two months earlier — a fact they were constantly reminded of leading up to the rematch. Then there was a 37-34 overtime win over New Canaan on Thanksgiving that came after squandering a 34-10 second-half lead.
“The last time we played Greenwich we only won by a touchdown so that was kind of salty in our mouth,” said Andrew Stueber, the Blue Wave’s dominant two-way lineman. “We came out here wanting revenge.”
Revenge in this instant was packaged by winning in an overwhelming manner, which top-seeded Darien did, 29-3. The Blue Wave will face No. 4 Southington in the semifinals for the second straight year Monday night at Boyle Stadium, its home neutral field.
Darien’s offense played well at times, sputtered at others and was hurt by penalties, but overcame mistakes with some outstanding plays. Finlay Collins, who made the clinching interception and was the most valuable player of the Turkey Bowl, ran for two scores, while quarterback Brian Peters, who was hit hard by the Rams and did not return for a complete practice until Monday, threw a pair of touchdown passes as the Blue Wave improved to 11-0.
“I’m really proud of our offensive line,” Stueber said. “Our schemes were great, we gave a full effort and defensively we knew we were banged up but it’s the state tournament, we went all out and it came out the way we thought it would.”
Collins’ 12-yard run late in the first quarter staked Darien to a 7-0 lead, and Peters hit Max Grant in the right side of the end zone on a fourth-down play for a 23-yard score and 13-0 advantage early in the second quarter.
Zach Moore’s 21-yard field goal with 1:19 in the half made it 13-3, but Peters needed three completions on four plays to give Darien a commanding 20-3 lead just 38 seconds later. He hit Grant in triple coverage for a 38-yard gain, then Nick Green made a spectacular catch on a deflected ball from 26 yards out for the score.
Darien dominated time of possession in the second half, with Collins scoring from 5 yards out and Riley Stewart making a 26-yard field goal.
But it was the Blue Wave’s defense that made the difference. Greenwich (7-4) did not gain a first down until its sixth possession, and Kevin Iobbi, the Cardinals’ star all-purpose back, was contained. Forced to throw the ball to come from behind, and with Connor Langan, who was rotating with Gavin Muir, injured after a quarterback keeper, the Cardinals struggled.
“I felt the first time around our defense had not jelled yet, not solidified,” Darien coach Rob Trifone said. “As of late we’ve been playing much better. I thought coming into the game our secondary has been coming on and really played well.”
The season was by all accounts a success for Greenwich and its second-year coach, John Marinelli. Coming off a 4-5 mark, the Cardinals’ only losses this year were to teams that are still playing. They defeated Staples on Thanksgiving to earn the No. 8 seed.
“They’re good,” Marinelli said of Darien. “We just couldn’t get anything going. We were one first down away from sustaining a drive but we couldn’t get one. That’s what they’re known for now and they did a great job.
“I’m proud of these men and this senior class,” Marinelli said. “They come out and practice hard every single day. They don’t ask questions they just do.”
Trifone told the players after the game that his birthday is Wednesday and they presented him with the perfect gift: a practice to plan.
“We made great adjustments from the New Canaan game and the defense played their hearts out today,” Stueber said.