DARIEN — There were just over 90 seconds remaining in today’s Turkey Bowl, and New Canaan needed just one more first down in order to let time expire on a third straight win over rival Darien.
The Rams ran a fundamental play with no frills, one few expected them to use so often — and so effectively. Quarterback Drew Pyne handed the ball off to Christian Carson, who bulled forward as several Darien defenders joined the pile.
Carson, as he did all morning, made it past the first-down marker, the final hurdle in a resounding 20-0 win that earned New Canaan a quarterfinal home game in next week’s state playoffs.
“Those plays trying to run out the clock just summarized the whole game for us,” said John Wise, who joined Carson and an outstanding performance by the offensive line to allow the Rams to perfectly execute their game plan. “That was great.”
New Canaan (8-2) for the third consecutive season rallied from two losses at midseason to run the table and defeat the Blue Wave, earning its 15th straight state playoff appearance. The Rams will host No. 5 Wethersfield in Tuesday’s Class L quarterfinals.
“We were able to hold onto the football and our kids played tough,” New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said. “It was just old-fashioned football.”
On a windy day that made throwing difficult, New Canaan rushed the ball 49 times for 204 yards to get its sixth straight win. The 4.2 yards per carry on the surface might not seem of particular note — Darien finished with two more total yards and ran one fewer play — until you look at time of possession. The Rams had the ball for 33:34, over 19 more minutes than the Blue Wave.
“They call me Woody Marinelli, the New Canaan coach said, referring to Woody Hayes, the former Ohio State coach who favored a strong ground game. “Part of the whole thing was to try and keep the ball as long as we could. I think we did that today. We were able to throw three running backs that we were really comfortable with.”
Carson led the way, carrying the ball 17 times for 95 yards and a score.
“Carson was the best back today,” Marinelli said. “He was awesome. He was the hot back. We gave it to him a little bit more.”
Wise finished with 42 yards. And Pyne had 11 rushes for 42 yards and a score. In contrast, Pyne threw the ball just 10 times — he had eight completions and a touchdown pass.
“It wasn’t the same team,” Darien coach Rob Trifone said. “They changed their linemen, they had a couple of injuries back, they had a great gameplan. We couldn’t stop them. They wanted to shorten the game and run the clock, which was smart. All the credit goes to Lou and his staff and the New Canaan players. They outplayed us in every phase.”
The day started poorly for Trifone from the outset; he let out an expletive after New Canaan won the coin toss and deferred. Playing with the wind in the first quarter, the Rams jumped out to a 14-0 lead.
The Blue Wave’s first drive ended when a bad snap on a fourth-and-three attempt was recovered by the Rams. It was a 27-yard loss and gave them the ball on the Darien 31. After Wise was stopped for no gain, Pyne hit Christian Sweeney over the middle for a quick score.
The next Darien possession ended with Braden Sweeney making the first of the Rams’ three interceptions. A nine-play — eight runs — 63-yard drive ended with Pyne’s 13-yard score.
Even Darien’s positives proved fleeting. The Rams went right down the field on the ground until Pyne threw a 16-yard pass to Zach LaPolice down to the Darien 7-yard line. The Rams opted to go to the air again and Sam Wilson made a goal-line interception.
Worse for the Rams, on the next play Wilson burst through for a 60-yard gain. But New Canaan’s defense, outstanding throughout, made another fourth-down stop near its goal line.
A Dean Ciancio interception set up Wise’s 3-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
“Running the ball was definitely a positive for us,” said New Canaan center Jaden Konspore. “We were able to control the ball most of the game. That opened up the whole offense. It wasn’t one specific player or package. It was all of us playing as a team. That’s the reason why we won today.”
Konspore and the rest of the line — Ned Brady, Willie Pirrone, Teddy DeClue and Ben Clay — allowed the offense to function as planned.
“The linemen were just able to create holes and they got their down blocks and were pulling around to get to the linebackers, and they were making holes for us,” Wise said.
Darien quarterback Peter Graham completed 18 of 43 passes for 207 yards, but he was hurt by having to throw a number of deep balls into an unforgiving wind. Jackson Peters finished with five catches for 97 yards.
The Blue Wave fell from the first to the third seed and now they have to face Greenwich in the Class LL quarterfinals, a rematch of last month’s game, won by Darien, 27-21.
Darien’s seed in LL is one spot higher than New Canaan’s in L, but Marinelli was the much happier coach afterward.
“Now we have a home game and that’s awesome,” Marinelli said. “It’s going to be fun. We’re back in the playoffs again. We love that.”