DARIEN — It has been some time since the Darien football team really had to go through a case of the fourth-quarter sweats. The Blue Wave were tied at halftime Friday before scoring on five straight possessions and blowing out Trumbull. They rolled in the second half against Staples. The only real test came on Sept. 22, and even that ended in a 22-7 win over St. Joseph.
It will be at least another three weeks before the Blue Wave are going to be forced to make a big play or stop late to win a game. So how does a coach keep his players sharp for a championship run against inferior competition?
“First of all it’s not easy,” said Darien’s Rob Trifone. “Good teams have gone through the same thing we’re going through, where they’re looking forward to, in our case, Thanskgiving Day and beyond. But you have to work on getting better every day, every week, no matter who you’re playing.”
All the more reason why the first half against the Eagles may prove valuable. The Blue Wave went into the locker room tied, 7-7. They were not flat, or looking ahead. Rather, the Eagles, showing rapid improvement under new coach Marce Petroccio, demonstrated they can play with an elite program for at least part of a game.
“In a good way, our kids are so used to winning that they just think it’s going to happen,” Trifone said. “Of course that forces their expectations to also be high. Things like this just don’t happen. Trumbull came in and for one they had a good game plan. Marce did a wonderful job of game-planning against us. And No. 2 they played hard. I warned the kids of course they are going to play hard. They’re high school football players.”
The Blue Wave are not the only state playoff contender dealing with a steady diet of outmanned opponents. Greenwich and New Canaan, since meeting before the bye week, have been prohibitive favorites and kept the clocks running in the second halves of their games because of sizable leads.
St. Joseph has been in a similar situation, though that will change on Friday. The Cadets meet Staples, which is also positioned to qualify for the state playoffs but has not yet established whether it is one of the league’s top teams or the best of the rest. It will get another chance after a strong first-half defensive performance against Darien.
Trifone and the Blue Wave have experience with the situation. They played the same schedule a year ago, with the lone setback a Turkey Bowl loss to New Canaan before winning their fourth straight state title.
Trifone said he spoke to his players Sunday morning about the importance of staying focused.
“I said if you don’t get better this week you’re going to be behind the other teams in the FCIAC and Class LL, because they’re getting better,” Trifone said. “So we set that as our goal. One week at a time. This week being Wilton. Getting better each week and not worrying about Thanksgiving Day or the quarterfinals.”
The Warriors, plagued by injuries, lack the personnel to stay with the Blue Wave, who then play winless Bridgeport Central before the Turkey Bowl against New Canaan.
“Fortunately we have been there before,” Trifone said. “One thing you do learn is you can’t put the pedal to the metal all the time. Because at some point human nature kicks in and they’re kind of like ‘Coach you are going crazy here. It’s Monday.’ You still have high expectations. You’ve learned over the years you have to keep a high level of expectations but not go crazy every week.”
Trifone said he sometimes employs a different weekday strategy depending on the credentials of the upcoming opponent.
“We try to change up practice a little bit when we are in a week when it isn’t as big as perhaps the St. Joe’s game,” Trifone said. “Week No. 3. I didn’t have to say a word all week. They were all over it. The same as games like Staples. It’s human nature. In other weeks I know I need to change up some of the drills and the approach to the game. We’re constantly trying things in weeks where we feel we can play around a little bit. We have a period every week called Big Play. We practice the reverses and things like that. It just kind of keeps us sharp. We don’t use those plays a lot but it’s a good opportunity to keep practicing.”
If the Blue Wave are celebrating a four-peat in mid-December, they may look to the Trumbull game as an important stepping stone to achieving that goal.
“If you had to have a little hiccup maybe in the first half of that game was the time to have it,” Trifone said.
1. Greenwich (6-0). The Cardinals are an engine picking up speed. They are getting better even though the competition is not.
2. Darien (7-0). Connor Fay is a league MVP candidate, even though no such award exists.
3. St. Joseph (6-1). It has been a while since the Cadets have played a big game. That changes Friday night in Westport.
4. New Canaan (5-2). For the Rams it is all about getting ready for Thanksgiving against Darien. Will the game have state playoff implications?
5. Staples (6-1). Here is the Wreckers’ chance, against St. Joseph, to make a statement and enhance their postseason chances. A test for the pass defense.