Football

Upon Further Review: Darien Fends Off Spirited Cardinals; Staples Moving On Up

Darien's Tim Herget scores on a 54-yard reception in the fourth quarter Saturday. (Photo: Darien Athletic Foundation)

Darien’s Tim Herget scores on a 54-yard reception in the fourth quarter Saturday. (Photo: Darien Athletic Foundation)

It is hard to imagine there being a more exciting game this season than Darien’s 42-35 win over Greenwich. Both coaches — the Blue Wave’s Rob Trifone and the Cardinals’ John Marinelli — no doubt watched the tape over the weekend and found a litany of mistakes that need correcting. There were a lot of missed chances, especially in the first half, and a lot of big plays yielded. It provided hope for top teams like Staples and New Canaan that face the Blue Wave later in the year. Darien looked beatable on this day.

On the other hand, the Blue Wave found a way to win when they were pushed to the brink, which has only happened once during the current 15-game winning streak. That was last Thanksgiving against the Rams. Greenwich three times came from behind to tie the game, the last coming from 28-14 down.

Darien answered with two scores, the second set up by an interception from Cord Fox that he returned 53 yards to the Greenwich 2. Fox is one of the few veterans back from last year’s dream team and the returning leadership cannot be overstated. Fox had a pair of sacks on consecutive plays in the first half.

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Like a year ago, the Blue Wave are operating with running backs and wide receivers by committee, with quarterback Brian Peters distributing the ball. The running backs, save for Finlay Collins, are all non-seniors, with Nick Green and Mitch Pryor getting better with each game.

The glass-half-empty view is that the Blue Wave could not put Greenwich away when they had the chance. Credit that to a Cardinals team that needed a late touchdown to beat Westhill in the opener and has since taken great strides.

Marinelli is a proponent of throwing the ball more than he has based on the composition of his roster, and on Saturday, in part by need playing catch-up, he unleashed quarterback Connor Langan. In the first two games Langan completed just 37 percent of his passes. Against Darien he was 26 of 47 for 355 yards and three scores.

Video: Game Of The Week — Darien 42, Greenwich 35

Langan spread the ball among three of his main weapons. Matt Morganti didn’t score but had eight receptions for 126 yards and a number of key plays to keep drives alive. Anthony Ferraro caught eight balls for 125 yards and two scores, the second a spectacular grab off a deflected ball. And Kevin Iobbi, the team’s biggest weapon, had 284 all-purpose yards, with a 99-yard kickoff return and nine catches for 98 yards and another touchdown.

With all that, Marinelli said he thought his defense outperformed the offense.

What was apparent is the Cardinals are moving in the right direction. They need to play more games like this against elite teams to win them. And most opponents would not have been able to handle the blows landed and come back.

Darien has been there before, and as both coaches stated that was ultimately the difference. Depending on how the next seven weeks play out before the postseason, it is likely for reasons yet unknown both teams will look back on Saturday’s game as instructional.

Mitch Pryor scores the winning touchdown against Greenwich. (Photo: Darien Athletic Foundation)

Mitch Pryor scores the winning touchdown against Greenwich. (Photo: Darien Athletic Foundation)

Wreckers Moving On Up

It has been hard to get a read on just how good Staples is this season, in part because it hasn’t been tested yet. Last year at this time the sentiment was the Wreckers were a good team but a step below Darien and New Canaan. That proved to be true.

Today? The outlook, because of the returning starters, was much stronger because of a veteran offensive line, a solid backfield and a stifling defense. It is hard to glean too much off of Friday’s 42-6 win over Wilton — the Warriors are improved but don’t have the size to play, no pun intended, with the big boys — but having now seen the Wreckers, Darien and New Canaan, my initial impression is the gap has been reduced. And the Wreckers have the personnel to come away with the conference’s best record.

A lot will have to happen. Staples’ offensive line is terrific, but Darien and New Canaan are both strong on the defensive front. The Wreckers would have a more difficult time playing from behind because both Darien and New Canaan have more diversified attacks.

The Wreckers don’t have to worry about New Canaan, which is not on the schedule, but Darien sits in the middle of their most difficult stretch, coming the week before the Thanksgiving game with Greenwich.

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Staples lost to the Blue Wave twice last year, including the opening round of the state playoffs.

Wreckers coach Marce Petroccio said last month, after it was discovered that starting running back Ethan Burger would miss the season, that there was a stable of good replacements in reserve. That has certainly been the case.

Staples' Julian Ross breaks free for a 26-yard reception against Wilton. (Photo: Ellie Kravetz)

Staples’ Julian Ross breaks free for a 26-yard reception against Wilton. (Photo: Ellie Kravetz)

The Wreckers ran for 470 yards against Wilton, averaging 11.5 yards a carry, and have 1,105 yards in three games. Harris Levi put up his second straight 200-yard game, finishing with 208 and four touchdowns. Quarterback Andrew Speed had 184 yards on just six carries and scored twice. Elliott Poulley, who missed the game with an injury, and Brandon Adrian have also contributed.

As Petroccio reminded, Burger was injured for half of last season and many of these players got quality playing time.

“We had some explosive plays today and that’s what we’re looking to do,” Petroccio said after the Wilton game. We’ve got some kids who are gamebreakers. We still haven’t begun to run some of the things that we still have in store. Every week we improve, every game we get better.”

Greene Early Feel-Good Story

No coach had a more tumultuous offseason than Stamford’s Jamar Greene. He was forced to reapply for his job, told he would not be rehired and was appealing the decision when the school reinstated him. The process was a huge black eye for the Stamford school system, which needs to rethink many of its practices to stay competitive in the FCIAC. Other football coaches rallied around Greene, offering him assistant positions, and it was evidence why many in the area privately admit they would never consider applying for a job at one of Stamford’s public schools.

The expectations were low for the Black Knights, who lost valuable offseason work — not to mention a number of assistant coaches — with the head position vacant.

Today Stamford sits with a 2-1 record after a late flurry carried it to a 27-7 win over Fairfield Warde on Friday. Tyrell Diaz scored a pair of touchdowns to help the Black Knights overcome a 7-6 deficit in the final quarter. The defense stopped Warde in the red zone on several occasions and have given up just 22 points in their two wins.

The Black Knights are not ready to compete for a title, but they have won games against two schools — including the opener with Danbury — of comparable talent. The toughest part of the schedule is ahead, but so far a team that was in disarray over the winter is exceeding modest hopes.

Fab 5

1. Darien (3-0). The Blue Wave got into a slugging match for the first time since last year’s FCIAC championship win over New Canaan and absorbed some blows. In the long run Greenwich may have better prepared them for the bigger games ahead.

3. New Canaan (3-0). The Rams would probably have preferred not to have three of their four easiest games in succession. Right now they can count down until Oct. 21 and Marinelli Bowl II.

3. Staples (3-0). Last year the feeling always was that Staples was good, but not GOOD, as in Darien-New Canaan good. That proved true. Right now the Wreckers appear to be better equipped to succeed.

4. Ridgefield (2-1). These next three weeks — at Norwalk, at Trinity Catholic and especially home against Staples — will shape the Tigers’ playoff hopes. How soon will quarterback Drew Fowler be back and can they win without him?

5. Trumbull (2-1). After routs of Fairfield Ludlowe and Westhill, the Eagles have dominated weaker opponents. They will get tested again Friday night against Trinity Catholic, which may need to run the table to earn a state playoff berth playing the league’s toughest first-half schedule.