Darien football, with two QBs, impresses at annual Grip It and Rip It tournament

Wave quarterback Peter Graham looks for a receiver downfield. — Dave Stewart photo

As the three-time defending state champion, to say the Darien Blue Wave football team will enter 2018 with a target on its back is putting it very mildly. Couple that with the graduation of several players, top teams in the FCIAC are licking their chops to get a crack at the Wave, who finished last season as the top team in the state.

The biggest void to fill this fall will be the one left by graduated quarterback Jack Joyce. The Wave have two candidates competing for the role under center — senior Cooper Hancock and junior Peter Graham — and this past weekend at the Grip It and Rip It 7-on-7 tournament in New Canaan, both signal callers impressed onlookers

The Darien defense was in fine form as a possible touchdown pass is tipped away from a Brunswick receiver by the Blue Wave’s Tyler Herget during the annual Grip It and Rip It 7-on-7 passing tournament in New Canaan last weekend. — Dave Stewart photo

“We’ve got two quarterbacks battling it out right now,” senior linebacker and co-captain Connor Fay said. “And no matter who we have starting on September 9th they’re going to be a baller and ready to compete. We have the best receiving corps that I’ve seen in a while here and I have confidence that if the ball gets thrown to any of them, they’ll come down with it.”

The 7-on-7 format features 20-minute games with only passing plays and no offensive or defensive line or rushing of the quarterback, who has five seconds to throw the ball. Teams start at the 40-yard line and are given four downs to make it to the 20, after which the downs reset to first-and-goal.

In addition to the traditional six points for a touchdown plus an option for a one- or two-point conversion from either the five- or 10-yard line, teams are rewarded two points for defensive stops and three points for an interception.

The Wave alternated starters throughout the 28-team tournament, going 4-1 in pool play on Friday and entering Saturday’s bracket play as the No. 5 seed, where they fell to No. 4 Cardinal Hayes (Bronx, N.Y.) in the quarterfinals.

“We wanted to do very well in this tournament,” senior Tyler Herget said. “We wanted to show what we had because most people think that since we lost so many seniors from last year that we won’t do very well. It’s still summer and there are a lot of things to improve upon. But this helps the receivers and quarterbacks get timing and connecting the dots in the summer helps in the fall.”

Perhaps the highlight of the tournament — at least from a viewer’s perspective — was Saturday’s showdown against archrival New Canaan, which came in the finals of the individual bracket prior to championship play. And although the Rams, who not only hosted the tourney but ended up winning it, prevailed by a score of 30-15, both Wave quarterbacks had flashes of brilliance.

Darien’s TJ Cornacchia makes a touchdown catch during the Grip It and Rip It tournament in New Canaan. — Dave Stewart photo

Trailing 15-0 early on, Hancock got Darien on the board with a beautiful pass to senior receiver TJ Cornacchia for a touchdown. Not to be outdone, Graham, after entering the contest at the midway point, threw his first pass of the game for a score to junior Will Kirby to get the Wave to within 22-15.

Although it’s billed as a passing tournament, the 7-on-7 format showcased key members of the Blue Wave defense, a unit led by Fay and senior safety Blake Cellar, along with junior outside linebacker Sam Wilson and junior defensive back Michael Minicus.

“We expected our defense to be at the same level as it was last year,” Fay said. “Our offense was up in the air but we proved to ourselves that we’re capable of competing at that same level, if not better. Proving it to ourselves is all that matters.”