Darien’s 36-23 comeback victory at home on Thanksgiving was just that — twice over and then some — winning its first game against New Canaan, Turkey Bowl or playoffs, since 2001, and reversing a 14-0 first quarter Rams’ edge to do so.
This year’s bird, at last, left its toughness back on the field.
“The turkey is going to taste a heck of a lot better today than it has the past several years,” said Darien coach Rob Trifone.
And it was good enough to make another animal — no, not the Ram — just go away.
“We’ve got the monkey off our back,” added the coach.
“We broke that 11-year streak and it just feels great,” senior lineman Matty D’Andrea said. “This is just our super bowl. We wanted to come out here and win, and we did.”
For senior top receiver Peter Gesualdi, who can not count the first half of the season as one of his favorite times, out injured from day-one, all was well that ended awesome.
“This is my all-time greatest win, by far,” Gesualdi said. “By far — I’d take this win over anything.”
“My whole life,” he said. “It’s so great.”
“Let me just say this about the team,” said Trifone. “Gesualdi misses the first five games and we (had other injuries). And we go 4-3. A lot of teams would have packed it in. Instead they come roaring back.
“Beat Trinity in the last second, beat Bassick.
“And then, to do this?
“As the kids said, ‘it’s a wildly successful season.’”
New Canaan went up 14-0 in the opening period on a 54-yard scoring pass from Nick Cascione to Cole Turpin, and on a one-yard run by Frank Cognetta.
Neal Koller kicked two PATs.
But like it was keeping a secret, only to then be revealed with a kick where it most hurts, Darien proceeded to reel off four straight touchdowns, coming back with a 22-point second quarter to win the day.
“We just kept going and fighting,” said senior Jackson Whiting. “This was a great win.”
“That was our motivation — it’s embarrassing the 11 years — but we start a new legacy now,” D’Andrea added.
Nick Lombardo with his first of three TDs caught a 35-yard pass from Henry Baldwin to cut the lead down by six.
Baldwin was smack on the mark with a PAT pass to Jackson Whiting to bring the Wave up to 14-8.
Myles Ridder scored on a 26-yard interception return that had the Rams heads spinning.
And Whiting had a nine-yard reception strike from Baldwin to close out the quarter.
Daly Hebert tacked on the PAT kicks on the last two TD and it was 22-14 Darien at the half.
Lombardo had his second touchdown on a 30-yard pass from Baldwin in the third quarter and Hebert added the kick.
And Lombardo finished it off with Baldwin in the fourth, making it a touchdown hat trick on another 30-yard pass. Hebert put the ball between the posts for the last points of the season.
Last gasps from NC came in the form of an end zone Michael Donnelly fumble recovery, Koller kick; and an intentional safety by the Wave in the close-out stanza.
Darien finshed out at 7-3, 10th in Class L while New Canaan (8-2) in sixth, moved on to play Avon (10-0) in states on Wednesday.
Jack Dempsey Memorial Wave MVP Baldwin was 15-for-30 for 257 yards with the four TD and two interceptions. Dylan Karnedy took the MVP nod for NC
Baldwin rushed for 26 yards on five tries.
“Well we came to this game with a great game-plan,” said Baldwin. “We had two sets, Army and Air Force. But, they actually did a fantastic job of shutting down our run game. And luckily we were able to pass the ball pretty well against them.”
Brian Weil won the Jim Girard Memorial Sportsmanship Award.
Gesualdi ran 25 yards on eight attempts, Ian Vanderhorn six times for 24 yards and Jay Harrison had 21 yards on nine carries. Wave injured leading rusher Christian Bognar had his arm in a sling, hollering strong from the sidelines.
Lombardo, a junior, had three catches for 95 yards, Gesualdi four for 64, junior Kyle Gifford two for 33, Whiting three for 29, Harrison two for 23, Griffin Ross one for 13.
Darien kept NC to 164 yards passing on 14 tosses by the Nick Cascione-Teddy Bossidy QB combo — the former going 11-for-21: 137.
Jack Gilo led receivers with seven catches for 62 yards. Cascione led the Rams on the rush with 157 yards on 20 tries. New Canaan rushed 271 yards on 47 attempts.
Matt Brown paced DHS with 14 tackles. Vanderhorn made 12 , George Reed nine, Andrew Maley, Whiting had eight apiece, D’Andrea seven, Brian Weigand, Gesualdi, freshman Mark Evanchik five each, Ridder four, Chris Hamernick three, Theo Frelinghuysen, John Reed two each and Harrison, Ben Sickinger and Tommy DiMauro made one apiece.
“We had a really good D plan going in there,” said Whiting. “We forced them into positions where they didn’t want to be.”
D’Andrea and Evanchick each cracked a sack.
Hebert punted four times for 130 yards and kicked off six times for 306 with three touchbacks.
“We watched a lot of film — all their tendencies — and we were able to get behind them,” Baldwin said. “They (receivers) did a great job. They haven’t played all that much this year, except for Peter. But they really came out today and played their best game all year.”
Baldwin’s man-mote of an offensive line had his back, and front.
“They did an awesome job today,” Baldwin said. “They gave me time back there to find my receivers down field. Huge, credit to them.
“They have a couple of awesome defensive linemen on New Canaan and they did a great job stopping them.”
Baldwin credited D’Andrea, Sickinger, Alex Gunn, Andrew Maley stepping in for Tommy Gasparino and Nick Kunze.
“I’m going to be in a good mood for a while after this one,” said Baldwin.
D’Andrea had reason to just be in the hot tub, for a good long while, after this one, cramping fiercely as he made his way for the sidelines.
But, probably not.
“No pain,” said D’Andrea, “just joy.”
Gesualdi’s idea is for this one to be the invitation to many more.
“Hopefully this is the start of a new tradition,” he said. “And let’s keep the winning Turkey Bowl tradition going.”
Turkey Bowl video clips and interviews are posted on this site.