It was one of the highlights of the state football playoffs, a 62-second span that highlighted Sam Wilson’s versatility.
First came a 20-yard interception return for a touchdown with 2:59 remaining against Greenwich in a Class LL quarterfinal that broke open a close game and gave Darien a more comfortable 19-9 lead.
After the Cardinals answered with a quick score to get back in the game, Wilson was inserted at running back, a situational move the Blue Wave’s coach, Rob Trifone, uses to take advantage of Wilson’s unique skill set.
On third down, with Greenwich a stop away from getting the ball back with time to tie the game or take the lead, Wilson followed a block, broke down the left sideline and went 71 yards for the deciding touchdown.
“For my career that was definitely one of my best moments but even then it was a quarterfinal game,” Wilson said. “I’m hoping to have one of my best moments on Saturday.”
Darien (11-1), the No. 3 seed, will play unbeaten Newtown (12-0) in the Class LL final. At stake, the Blue Wave’s fourth state title in five years. A three-season run was stopped last year by the Nighthawks in the quarterfinals.
“It’s very exciting,” Wilson said. “This is the moment we’ve been working on all year. Ever since the loss last year. We wanted to get back to this moment. We’re happy that it’s Newtown. We know Newtown is one of the best teams in the state as you’ve seen, undefeated. We’re happy that we will be able to get another crack at them. We know it is going to be a battle.”
Wilson would be a contender for the FCIAC’s best player — he is a Ruden Report finalist — just on his defensive resume. Wilson does it all — there is a play from the regular season win over Greenwich where he got downfield to break up a long pass.
Wilson’s ability on offense is a bonus.
“If you asked my wife I should put him in more often,” Trifone said. “We try our best to be two-platoon and we have numbers that dictate that. We have very few numbers that play that way. We have a couple of packages we use that include both Sam and Will Kirby. Depending on when we need them.”
Wilson leads the Blue Wave both in tackles and interceptions. He takes a pragmatic approach to how he is used.
“It’s always fun to play offense but I also know I get tired and I can also get hurt on offense,” Wilson said. “I got a concussion last year playing offense and that almost put me out for the first game, so it is a give and take. I like playing offense but I like playing defense more, and I don’t want to sacrifice being out on defense for some stats on offense.”
Darien’s defense has been a key to its postseason success. It has one of the state’s most prolific pair of defensive ends in Will Bothwell and David Evanchick, who have combined for 27.5 sacks. JH Slonieski has complemented Wilson at linebacker, while Jackson Peters is one of the leaders in the secondary.
“Sam is a no-nonsense, blue-collar type of guy,” Trifone said. “He doesn’t say a lot. He just does his job. I want to say unsung hero but it’s hard when you have a high profile. I think if you looked at our team you wouldn’t jump on Sam Wilson right away. There are a bunch of other names you might point to.”
While Wilson’s final minutes against Greenwich will endure, his play early in the first meeting against the Cardinals made people take notice.
“One cause is being an undersized linebacker,” Wilson said. “Even though some teams see that as a disadvantage, a negative, I think it allows me to be able to play in pass coverage. That is something I’ve worked a lot on and that is probably the most improved part of my game. Last year I kind of got exposed a little there so that’s what I worked on in the offseason.”
Wilson said his play this season has lived up to the high personal expectations he started with back in August. Now he has one more game left for the Blue Wave before heading next year to Middlebury.
“He’s a great all-around player and a great young man,” Trifone said. “Thank god he plays for me.”