There’s a lot riding on Turkey Bowl. But the roads travelled are high and low.
For Darien, it’s a crowning moment that awaits, one win away from unseating NC as league streak king with what would be a new record 35 victories in a row.
What really got us here is our defense.
— Rob Trifone
The Wave (9-0) would take a sixth straight Turkey Bowl.
“I mean, it’s pretty crazy being able to be a part of this,” Darien senior Mitch Pryor said.
That’s the high road.
Looking to pass out of the low lane is New Canaan (7-2). The Rams need the win to secure a seed at states.
“Just focusing on one thing,” said Darien coach Rob Trifone. “Beating them.”
So, who needs streaks? Right?
“I mean, it pops in, but that’s obviously not our focus,” said Connor Fay, a junior. “Just winning each game is. It would be a cool thing to beat. But we’re worried about just winning and getting the best advantage for states.”
Wave senior quarterback Jack Joyce’s all about streaks. Only, it’s the one on the sign post straight out in front of him.
“I don’t really think about the streak overall, I think about the streak for this season,” he said. “The fact that we’re 9-0. I’m all about 9-0 and I’m trying to be 10-0 after the Turkey Bowl.”
Going into the game, Darien’s been ranked at the top in the polls all season, and is just behind Naugatuck (9-0, 141.11 points average) in the Class LL standings.
“I think we’re all good,” Trifone said. “Again, we just have to stay focused and get ready for Thursday.”
Darien’s points average is 141.11, with an 88-point tie-breaker to Naugatuck’s 92.
Third place Shelton (8-1) is 138.89, while the third of the three undefeated teams in LL, Greenwich (9-0), is fourth with 137.78, and West Haven (8-1, 128.89) is fifth.
Sixth is South Windsor (8-1, 128.89), seventh East Hartford (8-1, 123.33) and eighth Southington (7-2, 105.56).
The defending Class L Champion Rams, it’s been heard north of the town line, are suffering a lack of focus, taking penalties that have taken down the proud and historically more title bound team than its rival.
So, incentive is the Rams’ best weapon as it attempts to gore a gargantuan points bonanza with an upset Turkey Bowl victory, to see its way out of a precarious position, in eighth place in L with a 104.44 points average.
“We don’t want to take anyone too lightly,” Wave senior lineman Drew Evanchick said.
No, there’s no need for streaks. Like nobody, needs, a Thanksgiving Day feast to survive.
But try running off with the turkey and trimmings from your neighbor’s plate.
“They have to beat us to essentially get into the playoffs,” said senior interception meastro Brian Minicus. “So they’re coming in with a chip on their shoulder; we’re obviously going to come in with a chip on our shoulder, wanting to keep the streak going. So that’s going to make the Turkey Bowl a lot better.”
(Stats quoted from MaxPreps)
Captain Joyce has thrown 27 touchdowns, playing every game.
He’s thrown 136 completed passes on 234 tries for 1,877 yards, and has rushed 36 times for 351 yards.
Captain Pryor is leading rusher with 560 yards on 105 carries, with seven running touchdowns.
Andrew Lucas has run for six touchdowns with 296 yards on 40 hauls.
Will Kirby, a sophomore, has gotten in to make 30 rushes for 194 yards for three touchdowns.
“This year — look — our offense has always been solid, and continues,” said Trifone. “And Jack Joyce et al, you know, Mitch Pryor, are doing a wonderful job.”
Darien’s scored more than 40 points five times this season, climbed over 50 once, and has five shutouts.
And Darien’s there in the air.
It’s led by Nick Green with eight touchdowns, 26 catches for 433 yards.
Senior Max Grant, out for much of the season injured, but back and raring and looking to go big for TB, has scored five touchdowns in the air, with nine receptions for 141 yards in four games.
Patrick Burke has 24 catches for 328 yards and four touchdowns in four games, Minicus 323 yards on 30 catches, three touchdowns, Alex Dehmel 12 catches for 174 yards, one touchdown, Tyler Herget 16 catches for 184 yards and two TD.
In all, Darien’s 148 catches has gained it 1,908 yards, 24 touchdowns.
It’s nothing new, but while Darien’s streaked across the sky on the way to bombing the end zone, the line it’s drawn down in the turf at the line of scrimmage has defined what it is to be 21st Century Wave Ball.
“What really got us here is our defense,” Trifone said. “And Mike Forget, my defensive coordinator continues to do an incredible job. These kids are so well prepared, for everything; things that (opponents) might do, things that they never do. So you don’t get caught looking left and right, like: what was that?”
Kevin Grune has 52 total tackles, Fay 49, Green 40, Evanchick 34, Peter Guttuso 32, Minicus 29, Charlie Zuro 23, Connor Tienken 23, Christian Evans 21, Mike Neary 20, John Lochtefeld 17, Blake Cellar 17.
“O-Line has done a great job all year long,” said Trifone of: Neary-T, Connor Henry-G, Ryan Sullivan-C, Bobby Keeney-G and Willy Keating-T.
Sentiments were the same for the D-Line of Sean O’Malley-DE, tackles Neary, Evans, Zuro, Evanchick-DE.
Sack leader is Grune with six, then senior captain Neary with 5.5, Evanchick and Evans with 3.5 each, Fay with 2.5, Green one.
Captain Minicus has made six interceptions, Tienken three, Grune two, Fay and Bruce Ferguson one apiece.
Austin Hagander has kicked 37 points including two field goals.
Points leader is senior captain Green with 60 and he leads with 10 touchdowns accounting for all the points.
Pryor has seven touchdowns, 42 points, Lucas 36 points, Grant 30 points, Minicus 30 points, Burke 24 points, Kirby 18, all touchdowns for them all.
New Canaan lost to St. Joseph 38-35 on opening day, and lost to Greenwich 36-21 on Oct. 14.
The Rams is led by sophomore quarterback Drew Pyne, who started as freshman. He is 128-for-211 with 1,825 yards, throwing 22 touchdowns.
Junior Quintin O’Connell has 13 touchdowns, catching 44 receptions for 651 yards.
Justin Greco has caught 23 passes for 334 yards and four touchdowns, Owen Shin 27 catches for 311 yards and three TD, Griffin Arnone 14 passes for 293 yards and three touchdowns, Patrick Metzger 15 catches for 235 yards and two touchdowns.
Pyne’s rushed the ball 61 times for 212 yards and scored five times.
Top rusher this season is Shin with 764 yards on 95 carries and three touchdowns.
JR Moore has seven touchdowns on 30 carries and 180 yards.
“New Canaan/Darien is always going to be close,” said Green. “No matter what the team level is going to be like.”
“The records kind of get thrown out the window a little bit, you know,” Neary added, echoing the annual theme.
And with a wounded beast in the sheep fighting for its fleece, Darien needs to hear that echo. Because it might just sound like a lion roaring.