DARIEN — The Darien High School football team was anointed the team to beat in the FCIAC this season before the 7 on 7 tournaments were even completed.
“We’ve had the hype since the summer,” said George Reed, the Blue Wave’s star defensive lineman and occasional short-yardage back. “You guys have been talking about us since June or July. We didn’t have to talk about ourselves. You have to love this mojo we’ve got going on.”
The Blue Wave have lived up to the hype, with a 10-0 record and No. 3 ranking in the state heading into Thursday’s annual Turkey Bowl game with New Canaan, this year at Boyle Stadium for the FCIAC championship.
Darien entered this week atop the league in points scored and second to New Canaan in points allowed.
Yet, the Blue Wave were passed ever so slightly by the Rams, who are 9-0 and second in the state polls. Most make them a slight favorite.
Darien’s greatest strength has been its defensive line, led by Reed, one of the team’s emotional leaders.
Reed has a team-high 79 tackles and 8.5 sacks, second to his bookend on the line, Mark Evanchick, who has 20. Reed has also scored seven touchdowns on his 16 carries.
“It’s a senior season I’ve dreamed of,” Reed said. “Coming off of a solid junior season I wanted to be more of an impact player as a senior, and I think I’ve done that. Thank God the coaches have given me the opportunity to play a little on offense, and that’s helped.”
Reed has been the center of some mystery in the days leading up to the game. He sustained a knee injury that caused him to leave in the third quarter of a 31-0 win over North Haven 10 days ago.
Sources have said that Reed tore his ACL and would not play again this season. Darien coach Rob Trifone shot down the rumors at the start of the week, saying Reed did have a knee injury but has been cleared to play and the expectation was he would be in the starting lineup against New Canaan.
Reed preferred days ago to instead discuss what the rivalry means to him.
“I’m not concerned, I care more about my team than anything else,” Reed said. “I’d be excited for this game if I was playing quarterback, if I was watching it or anything. This game’s special. I’m happy to be a part of it and I think I will be out there.”
Trifone said Reed provides a fiery presence that is immediately noticeable.
“George, as you can tell when you talk to him, is as passionate an athlete as they come,” Trifone said. “He wears everything on his sleeve. He’s constantly talking. Sometimes that is good, sometimes that is bad. He’s so into the game. He can’t help himself.”
Darien’s defensive line has earned well-deserved acclaim. Reed and Evanchick garner most of the attention, and earned All-FCIAC honors. But the tackles, Jack Griffiths and Jack Tyrrell, have performed just as well and are just behind their linemates in tackles.
“I might get some more credit than some other guys but it’s because of their work,” Reed said. “Their hard work leads to the awards and accolades everybody gets. As far as the four of us, we’re all really good friends. We talk to each other a lot. It’s a lot of fun. I’m competing against those guys. We’re on the same team but we’re all competing to get their first. It’s kind of a joke who gets their first.”
Trifone said Reed and the other defensive linemen have been a dream unit to coach.
“He’s certainly as good a defensive player as I’ve had,” Trifone said. “They are different. Some are bigger, some are faster. In terms of just playing his position, what we call a five-technique, he’s as good as I’ve ever coached. The combination of George with those other three, that’s what put us where we are.”
Darien has already secured a berth in the Class L playoffs. It lost in the final at Boyle Stadium to New Canaan last December, just weeks after ruining the Rams’ perfect season in the Turkey Bowl.
“I’ve always been a Thanksgiving game type of guy,” Reed said. I probably bring up the Turkey Bowl 20 times in the month of July. That’s special to me and to these guys. It is special enough. If you throw in the FCIAC championship on top of it and the game is huge, it’s immense. It’s big.”