Football

Upon Further Review: Darien’s Season Following Familiar Template

Connor O’Malley scores a touchdown in the season-opener against Fairfield Ludlowe. (Darien Athletic Foundation)

This season seems like a rerun for the Darien football team. An early statement win is followed by a serious of blowouts that remove the Blue Wave from the front burner for about a month.

If this year follows the same script as last until December, when they got knocked out of the state playoffs in the first round after three straight Class LL titles, coach Rob Trifone will be most pleased.

The Blue Wave again have a victory over a top 10 opponent heading into this bye week. It came in the second game, a 24-8 decision over Southington, a team it beat twice during its run of finishing No. 1 in the state. It reaffirmed that the defense again remains a dominant component.

In its other three games, the Blue Wave has outscored opponents by a 131-13 margin.

That includes Friday’s 41-13 win against Trumbull. While the similarities to a year ago are stark, Trifone said he has already seen contrasts that bode well toward the achievement of long-term goals.

“I think one of the differences is last year after the St. Joe’s game we kind of flattened out and didn’t get better, and that’s been a theme I’ve had with our coaching staff and our kids,” said Trifone, referring to a week three win over the Cadets, who already had a win over New Canaan. “Look, big deal you beat Southington. There is a lot of season to go and you better get better each week. Last year I felt as if we got a little stale after St. Joe’s and so far I haven’t seen that after Southington.”

Austin Dehmel is part of a group of strong receivers for the Blue Wave. (Darien Athletic Foundation)

That is apparent in Trifone’s one critique so far: not shutting out the Eagles. That may seem a little too strict unless you are a coach accustomed to winning on the final day of the season.

“The key to doing well in the state playoffs is to get better every week,” Trifone said. “I never want to say I’m pleased with what we’ve done. We gave up 13 points Friday night. Our coverage could have been better. We are working on that.”

Before you think Trifone is one of those teachers who refuses to give out As, he admitted he has been pleased with all facets of his team thus far. The back seven on defense, led by linebackers Sam Wilson and JH Slonieski, has dominated. They are currently first and second, respectively, on the team in tackles.

Wilson also has three of the team’s 10 interceptions and is second with three sacks. The secondary, which features several of the Blue Wave’s top receivers, has been a lockdown unit.

That comes in conjunction with a defensive line that continues to be a program trademark. Will Bothwell, with five sacks, has picked up where he left off last year. The team is averaging four sacks a game.

Trifone said two new players have stood out. One is Jackson Walsh, a 310-pound junior.

“He’s got the size,” Trifone said. “But we weren’t sure how he would take on double teams. He’s been doing a great job.”

The other is a name familiar to Darien fans: David Evanchick, who is opposite Bothwell on the line. Evanchick’s brother, Mark, was the state football and lacrosse player of the year in 2015, when he had 23.5 sacks.

Will Bothwell again leads the Blue Wave in sacks. (Darien Athletic Foundation)

“He’s doing a good job at defensive end,” Trifone said. “He’s going to be very good. You don’t compare brothers but as an individual he’s a very tough, strong, talented and very disciplined. People think playing defensive end at any level is easy. You just rush the passer. It’s just the opposite. You fly up the field and they trap you. You don’t come down hard enough they will kick you out. He’s learning real fast and doing a nice job for a young guy.”

Advertisement

The offense also seems to be part of a template, starting with a flourishing first-year quarterback. Peter Graham is averaging 242 yards a game in some abbreviated work and most impressively has thrown 10 touchdown passes to one interception.

Four receivers have between 10 and 13 catches, led by Michael Minicus, who is averaging 28 yards per reception and has six touchdowns.

And featured back Will Kirby, operating behind a revitalized offensive line, has scored five times.

Though the Blue Wave has been prohibitive favorites, Trifone is happy with his team’s mental toughness.

“I’m pleased with the fact that when we play teams that aren’t in the top 10 our players understand that they have to show up in the first half and play hard, because I thought we struggled with that last year,” Trifone said. “This team seems to take a little more of a businesslike attitude, regardless of the opponent.”

In an FCIAC regular season with a paucity of big games, next up is Darien’s trip to Greenwich on Oct. 26.

For now, Trifone does have one other gripe: not having a game this weekend.

“I never want a bye,” Trifone said.

Fab 5

1. St. Joseph (4-0). The scoreboard in the second quarter Friday night at Dunning Field: St. Joseph 51, New Canaan 0. Stunning.

2. Darien (4-0). The countdown to the Greenwich game in two weeks is on.

3. Greenwich (4-0). The countdown to the Darien game in two weeks is on.

4. Ridgefield (3-0). The Tigers come off their bye week and have a road trip to Chatham, NJ. Then the rivalry game with Wilton and, gulp, St. Joseph.

5. New Canaan (2-2). The Rams have had two losses at midseason the last two years and won out to make the state playoffs. They can do it again this year. How will they react to the manner in which they lost to St. Joseph?