Nick Lombardo’s instantly Wave-famous catch to win it with six and a bit seconds left on the clock was just one masterpiece, in what turned out to be a gallery of beautiful sights for the Blue Wave.
“The beauty of it, is, we’ve had a tough year,” said Darien football coach Rob Trifone of the Wave’s real looker of a 26-20 victory over Trinity in Stamford on Saturday afternoon. “I can’t be any prouder of the men on this team. They fought every inch of the way.”
The minor masterpiece plays?
“There were several big plays throughout the game,” said Trifone, who also called this one, epic. “Jack Bennett had a back-shoulder catch in the corner of the end zone, Peter Gesualdi had a great pick that set up a score.
“But at the end of the day, obviously everyone is looking at the Nick Lombardo catch.”
Good for 34 yards, the game, and lots of long, long memories to come.
Scorching the Crusaders (7-1) with their first loss of the season, and dashing its FCIAC title game hopes, raises Darien’s record to 5-3; and with 1-7 Bassick next in line on Friday night at Brien McMahon, means Thanksgiving’s tilt with New Canaan could be worth more than town-to-town bragging rights in the end.
It means there’s still an outside shot of making states.
Darien is 11th in Class L with an 85 point average, just three places out of a playoff spot that could be solved by beating Bassick then NC, which resides in seventh with a 115.
“It’s out of our hands,” Trifone said.
No matter. After Saturday, they are playing like lots that still matters, is still in their grasp.
Holding onto that sort of thinking was the hardest of chores going up against Trinity, though.
“You go into this extended two-week hurricane period, against 7-0 Trinity, and you have to wonder as a high school coach: what are you going to get out of this team?” Trifone said. “Needless to say, we pushed them.”
Jay Harrison and Gesualdi also scored on runs, Gesualdi added a PAT pair.
Henry Baldwin threw 15 completes on 29 passes for a big 229 yards, two TD.
Lombardo made four catches for 84 yards, Gesualdi caught six passes for 74 yards, Jackson Whiting four for 54.
Harrison rushed 46 yards on 10 carries, Gesualdi had 42 on nine and Christian Bognar 16 on two.
Tackles: Matt Brown led the Wave with 12 total, while Andrew Maley made 11 including a sack and Matt D’Andrea had 10.
Harrison blocked a punt.
Daly Hebert punted four times for 85 yards and kicked off five times for 246, 60 long, with one touchback.
“Because we knew that the game was going to be at least a week-plus away, we trained like it was the preseason,” said the coach. “And they knew it, and they didn’t complain. And we ran them hard.
“But you’ve still got to show up and play the game, against a very good Trinity team.”
Despite the beautiful moves at the end, conditions weren’t too pretty.
“It was a gritty, hard fought high school football game,” Trifone said. “In the slop and the mud.”
Not a spec of it landed on Lombardo.
“It was a phenomenal catch,” said Trifone. “I watched it, 15, 20 times.”
And if Lombardo didn’t have a spec of slop stuck to his gleaming game, the same could not be said of the coverage that stuck to all sides of him.
“The corner was in front of him, the free safety was in back of him,” said Trifone. “The strong safety had come over and was in a position to tackle him.”
Covered, tight, by two, that left a third in position to read his numbers in widescreen HD as well.
“He leaps in between the two defenders and takes the ball away from the corner,” said Trifone. “The corner had his hands on it.”
But so did Lombardo.
“He rips it out of the corner’s hands,” added Trifone.
The strong safety reached out his hands for Lombardo on the three, last chance to hang on.
“But Nick twists his body and dives in the end zone.”
Ending the Crusaders all-wins season.
“Just the awareness of his body position to No. 1 catch the ball, and number two, catch the ball and dive in the end zone, is just unreal.”
A more real 6.5 seconds of time has never existed.
“He doesn’t get in the end zone, what we were going to do — we did have one timeout left,” said Trifone. “We were going to take the timeout and kick a field goal.”
But, Darien had already missed two extra points.
“Nobodies fault, other than the field was so sloppy.”
Games like this make you search the old cerebral vault for similar bolts out of the blue; or, out of the red and blue, as in Trifone’s case.
“As I look back on my career, this is the second time this has happened to me in the final minute,” said the former long-time Brien McMahon coach. “The first was a McMahon-Norwalk Thanksgiving Day Game. And we were losing 7-6.”
It was 1987.
“The difference was, there was about a minute and 20 seconds left,” Trifone said. “And, we were backed up on our own 30 and threw a Hail Mary on fourth down.”
It was tipped and caught in the end zone.
“So we went up 12-7. But there was 1:10 or 1:15 left.”
And the Senators got slapped with a 15-yard penalty.
“So now we have to kick off to Norwalk from our own 25.”
Bears received on the 50.
“And they had a big, tall quarterback and ended up with five or six shots in the end zone, because they got a first down,” Trifone recalled like he was watching last week’s tape. “The final minute of that game was much more nail-biting.”
There’s a point to bringing back the psychological tightrope walk of 25 years past — point being, the bench lesson learned a quarter century back, kept his team upright on the tightrope of 2012.
“I elude to that story because as soon as we scored, I jumped out of my skin, just like anyone else,” Trifone said. “And then immediately turned around and corralled the entire team back to the bench.
“Because, I’ve been there before. I didn’t want a 15 yard penalty.”
Corralling the Wave at that point took some coaching. Think corralling the real thing — a herd of bulls who just found out, they’re not, being branded for next week’s beef.
“We’re laughing now,” Trifone said, “but when you watch the video of the catch, everyone and coaches and kids — except for me — the kindergarten cop — I’m pushing everyone back to the bench.”
It’s needless to say; but let him say it, he’s earned it: “We didn’t get a penalty,” added Trifone.
Darien squib-kicked the last ticks away. Trinity took over and put hope into the air.
“We had everyone on the team back, 35 yards,” said Trifone. “Peter Gesualdi caught it, and pushed it to the ground.
“He didn’t even want to intercept it.”
No chance for a fumble.
“He literally caught it and threw it to the ground in one motion.”
Back up about 1:30 to find out why he punctuated the game with that no-nonsense choice.
“They punted to us and (Gesualdi) fumbled the ball on our own 25 — something he has never done in his entire career,” Trifone said of the senior. “And he’s been returning punts since his sophomore year.
“And of course, he feels terrible.”
Only it was then and immediately Trinity’s turn to feel down.
“Not only do we stop them, on four straight downs, but, on the fourth down play, with people open down field, the freshman Mark Evanchik sacks the quarterback,” said Trifone. “Once again, for a 10-yard loss, to prevent them from either scoring or getting a first down.”
It’s the first time Darien’s knocked off a top-tier team this season — starting in Sept., clean and healthy, looking to again be one themselves.
There’s a reason.
“As a staff, we said, the difference in this game and the St. Joe’s (OT) game, is we made big plays in this game when we needed to.
“In the St. Joe’s game we had opportunities. And didn’t cash in.”