Turkey Bowl XXV: New Canaan football tops rival Darien, 17-14, clinches Class LL bid

Darien’s Will Kirby goes head-to-head with New Canaan’s Dean Ciancio during the Turkey Bowl football game Thursday at Boyle Stadium in Stamford. — Scott Mullin photo

For the 14th consecutive year, the state football playoffs will include New Canaan, as the Rams knocked off the Darien Blue Wave, 17-14, in the annual Turkey Bowl game Thanksgiving morning at Stamford’s Boyle Stadium.

Quarterback Drew Pyne hit receiver Wyatt Wilson over the middle for a 16-yard touchdown to put the Rams ahead for good with 6:58 remaining. Darien had a shot to tie it in the final minute, but Will Kirby’s 32-yard field goal attempt was off the mark with 30 seconds to play.

It’s the second straight Turkey Bowl win for New Canaan, but more importantly for the Rams, they get to keep playing football.

“I don’t think any of them wanted it to end,” New Canaan head coach Lou Marinelli said of his players. “I told them this is really about you guys. You’ve got to go out and do it. They took the challenge and really played well, especially in tight situations.”

New Canaan (8-2) is the No. 8 seed in Class LL and will play at No. 1 Shelton (10-0) in the state quarterfinals on Tuesday, Nov. 27.

Darien (9-1) suffered it first loss and dropped from third to sixth in Class LL. The No. 6 Wave will play at either Newtown or Greenwich (both 10-0) in Tuesday’s quarterfinals. Their opponent will be determined by the outcome of Friday’s Norwalk-McMahon game. If Norwalk wins, the Wave plays Newtown, if McMahon wins, the Wave faces Greenwich.

New Canaan had taken some heat this season due to its lack of success against elite opponents. They carried a four-game win streak into Thanksgiving, but their early-season losses to St. Joseph and Greenwich still loomed large.

“Everyone was talking about St. Joe’s and Greenwich,” Ram senior co-captain Jack Stewart said. “We kind of just forgot about those games and started from scratch since we lost to Greenwich. We’re a new team today.”

Darien’s loss was its first of the season and they are now 46-2 over the past four seasons with the only two defeats coming in the last two Turkey Bowls. This time around, turnovers were the biggest issue, as the Wave lost the ball on three interceptions — two to Charlie Cunney and one to Drew Guida — and a fumble.

“Our defense played lights out and our offense had a very bad game,” Darien head coach Rob Trifone said. “Some of that is obviously attributed to their defense. But you can’t turn the ball over and expect to beat a team like this. It is what it is. It’s just a shame because our defense played so well.”

The game actually turned on a pair of fumbles in the fourth quarter — both of which went New Canaan’s way.

With the Wave leading 14-7, New Canaan running back J.R. Moore broke free for a 10-yard run, but had the ball jarred loose on a tackle by Darien linebacker Sam Wilson. The Wave’s Will Bothwell came out of the pile with the ball, but after a conference, the referees gave possession to New Canaan.

The Darien defense kept the Rams out of the end zone, but kicker Nicholas Radman booted a 28-yard field goal to close the gap to 14-10 with 9:47 remaining.

On the ensuing drive, New Canaan’s Harrison Skyrm sacked Wave quarterback Cooper Hancock and forced a fumble. Kieran Buck scooped it up and returned it to the Wave 20-yard line.

Two plays later, Pyne found a wide open Wilson for the go-ahead touchdown with 6:58 remaining.

Darien’s next possession went nowhere, but on the Wave’s final drive, Hancock hooked up with receiver T.J. Cornacchia for a 50-yard pass play to the New Canaan 20-yard line. Hancock then hit Herget for 10 yards and a first down at the Rams’ 10 with one minute on the clock.

New Canaan’s defense stepped up one last time, however, and the game eventually ended when Kirby’s field goal attempt went wide.

“That’s all I was thinking the whole fourth quarter — this might be the last time I strap up and put pads on for New Canaan football,” Stewart said. “That hit me hard and I played my hardest. Our whole season was on the line for this game and I don’t think any of us could’ve played any better than we did.”

“They did a lot of things successful today,” Herget said. “They won the big play game today. We made a few miscues, but they made the most big plays today and that was the difference. We definitely showed fight n this game and this is going to push it to work even harder like we did last year.”

New Canaan now has a 52-38-2 advantage in the 91-year history of the rivalry, and is 15-9-1 in Turkey Bowls, which began in 1994.

“As it almost always in when you have New Canaan and Darien, this was a great high school football game,” Marinelli said. “It’s two proud communities and two proud football programs. To put on a performance like that makes it a great day.”

Player of the Game

Jack Stewart, New Canaan. The senior co-captain earned New Canaan’s Jack Dempsey MVP Award, named for the former Ram and Turkey Bowl MVP. Dempsey was a corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps and was killed in action in Iraq in 2004. Stewart led a huge defensive performance for the Rams, who kept the pressure on Wave QB Cooper Hancock. Tyler Herget was named Darien’s MVP.

Quotable

“After what these guys have been through with people saying they can’t win a big game, it’s a testament to how hard they’ve worked to be able to win this game,” Marinelli said. “Hopefully, we can do something in the playoffs now.”

Turkey Bowl XXV – New Canaan 17, Darien 14

Thursday, Nov. 22, at Boyle Stadium

Darien 0-7-7-0 14

New Canaan 7-0-0-10 17

First Quarter

NC – Christian Sweeney, 5-yard run (Nicholas Radman PAT)

Second Quarter

D – Tyler Herget, 32-yard punt return (Will Kirby PAT)

Third Quarter

D – TJ Cornacchia, fumble recovery in end zone (Kirby PAT)

Fourth Quarter

NC – Radman, 28-yard field goal

NC – Wyatt Wilson, 16-yard pass from Drew Pyne (Radman PAT)