Of all the statistical superlatives one can find about the 2015 Darien High School football team, perhaps none are as impressive as the following: In a pass-happy league, the Blue Wave secondary has not allowed a touchdown in the air all season.
Now, keep in mind that the team’s biggest test is yet to come. That happens Thursday when the Blue Wave take on New Canaan in a battle of unbeaten teams with the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference championship at stake. And New Canaan quarterback Michael Collins has averaged nearly six touchdown passes per game this season.
So, we’ll see what happens Thursday. But going eight games without allowing a passing touchdown against a schedule including Staples, St. Joseph and Greenwich — three teams with a combined 16-8 record — is remarkable.
“(Playing a defensive backfield position) might be the hardest thing to do in athletics,” Darien coach Rob Trifone said. “To go one on one against a receiver who is always a step ahead of you is very hard. It’s a very tough position to play.”
The entire starting defense deserves props, having allowed just 17 points this season. The other 74 points scored by opponents came against backups and junior varsity players after the Blue Wave had built huge leads. But the only two scores against the starters were rushing touchdowns by Greenwich in a game Darien won by 23 points, the Blue Wave’s closest of the season.
The starting four in the defensive backfield — Bobby Trifone, Hudson Hamill, Christian Trifone and Tyler Grant — are all seniors. Bobby Trifone and Hamill are three-year starters while the other two have been starting since the beginning of last year. If anyone thinks the experience of playing together for so long is vital, you have no idea.
This foursome has been playing together, in the same defensive backfield, since their youth football days back in the 3rd grade. This is actually their 10th year together.
And their coach for all of this time?
“We’ve had our senior year circled since the 3rd grade,” Hamill said.
“It’s a weird connection we have,” Bobby Trifone added. “We know each other so well because we’ve been playing together for so long.”
Such a familiarity has proven to be priceless for the unit.
“We don’t communicate because we don’t have to,” Christian Trifone said. “We see it all in front of us and we know the other guy will make a play. It’s great to have confidence in all the other guys.”
Bobby Trifone leads the team with three interceptions. Hamill has 26 solo tackles, one interception and two fumble recoveries, while Christian Trifone has 21 solo tackles, one interception and two fumble recoveries. Grant has been just as good, although he was the only one of the four that did not make first team All-FCIAC.
“Tyler is under the radar but is a very good football player,” Rob Trifone said. “It’s too bad but there’s no way (the league coaches) were going to make all four of our guys All-FCIAC.”
Hamill and Christian Trifone are the safeties while Bobby Trifone and Grant play the corners. All are typically sized defensive backs: between 5-foot-10 and 6-feet, and between 160 and 170 pounds. But stats and size are only part of this story. There are also the intangibles.
“I’ve been coaching them since the 3rd grade and I told my coaching staff a long time ago to wait and see how knowledgeable they are,” Rob Trifone said. “They are all very good in space and really know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”
The experience of playing together, not to mention seeing New Canaan twice last year — Darien won the FCIAC championship before New Canaan came back to win in a state final — has helped create the best secondary in the league, if not the state. That should come in handy Thursday. But this unit has more going for it than that.
First, they get to practice against a great quarterback, Timmy Graham.
“It really helps us going against what we feel is the best quarterback in the state every day in practice,” Hamill said. “We know Collins can throw the ball but we practice against the best.”
“Practicing against Timmy makes all of us better,” Bobby Trifone added.
So, the unit has the experience of 10 years of playing together, they practice against one of the best offenses and also have another intangible working in its favor heading into Thursday’s showdown. The secondary, like the rest of the team, has been highly motivated this season after coming so close last year to winning the school’s first state championship since 1996. Last season ended in a one-point loss to the Rams in the state final.
“That has fueled us,” Christian Trifone said. “Unfinished business, that’s our ultimate goal. New Canaan will be the best team we have faced, so we can’t sit on our laurels.”
“We have extra motivation,” Hamill added. “After the Staples game we all agreed that the season really starts now. For the secondary, this game is on us.”
For eight games, they have been unscored upon. It has been a remarkable streak, but one that may end Thursday. Of course, it’s the other streak — the one involving consecutive victories — that the defensive backs really care about.
“This will clearly be their biggest challenge,” Rob Trifone said. “They will be going up against the best quarterback and the best corp of receivers they have faced yet. So, it’s time to put their money where their mouth is.”