Darien's rivalry with New Canaan fuels Blue Wave tide
STAMFORD -- No matter the sport, there is little more conceivable motivation for a Darien team to win than to indicate, should it lose, New Canaan will take its spot in a playoff matchup.
That's now what faces the Blue Wave football team, as it needs one win in order to make the FCIAC football championship game and face the winner of Trumbull vs. Staples.
If Darien loses to Norwalk next Saturday afternoon?
New Canaan, which will also have one loss -- should it defeat 5-3 Bridgeport Central at home Friday night -- gets to play for an FCIAC title.
"Now the remaining games are all championship-caliber games," Darien quarterback Chris Allam said.
Allam and his teammates made little work of undermanned, overwhelmed Westhill Saturday afternoon, as Darien -- as politely as it could -- ruined Senior Day for the Vikings, winning 43-0. There were certainly plenty of heavy hearts and swirling emotions for Westhill players, coaches, fans and friends, as Danny Villeda was honored. Villeda, a former wide receiver and defensive back with the Vikings, was shot to death in March 2009. This would've been his Senior Day.
After the pregame ceremonies ended, Darien got right to work. Despite missing several starters -- who were rested for mild injuries -- the Blue Wave kept Westhill in the negative for aggregate yardage.
Vikings quarterback Peter Cernansky was 3 for 13 for -26 yards; the Westhill ground game had 16 yards rushing. Darien forced five three-and-outs and prevented three fourth-down conversions from extending drives.
"They say our defense is supposedly one of the best in the state," said Darien senior running back Graham Maybell. "That showed today. I don't think we gave up one first down on yardage except on penalties. If we come out and play that nasty -- that's who we are, that's our defense. That's been missing the past couple weeks." Three plays into the game, a 32-yard touchdown pass from Allam to Maybell that was so casual, you'd think it could've taken place after a coach blew the whistle in practice; the two merely continued to finish the play out.
Saturday's shutout was only the second one this season for a team with one of the best reputations on the defensive side of the ball. Many agreed afterward the 0 left on the scoreboard was a morale boost the team needed as it now preps for Norwalk.
"After a poor showing against such a weak team like Bassick, having that blue-collar work ethic all week and coming out here and beating a team 43-0 is definitely huge going into next week," Allam said.
The Bassick game last weekend, which was littered with fumbles and turnovers on both sides, ended with Darien winning, 35-7. A 28-point victory was taken as a nail-biting loss. That speaks to how seriously this team takes this season, and the level of expectation it puts upon itself.
"It was a very lazy performance," Allam added. "We didn't show up to play. That can't happen. That performance happens next week against Norwalk, we have a loss on our record and we're not going to be in the FCIAC championship." Head coach Rob Trifone embraces the situation his team finds itself in now. That's because in 2008 Darien clinched a berth in the title game after it defeated Staples 12-0. A game against St. Joseph was next on the docket, and although the Blue Wave edged out a 21-14 win, Trifone wasn't satisfied with his team's attitude, effort or disposition heading into the title tilt against New Canaan 12 days following that win.
The Blue Wave lost the conference championship on a neutral field to the Rams by the score of 28-20.
"We went in having locked up a spot ... But I'd much rather be this way, where you have to win out in order to go," Trifone said. "After the Bassick game last week, where we kind of squandered a little bit, if you will, the team kind of refocused said, `We've got to get back to work.' [The bad performance against Bassick] might've been a blessing in disguise." Maybell said he doesn't need much motivation, but he's drawing local, real-life parallels already.
"It's almost like the Jets last year," he said. "I'm a big Bengals fan, but the Jets took care of business. They got in the playoffs and went far. It's kind of like the scenario for us." And although Norwalk owns a sub-.500 record (the Bears are 3-5), it's had an upset this year.
"Norwalk's a good team," Maybell said. "They have a good junior class that can't be taken lightly. They came out and beat Greenwich (19-7) the first game of the season." Norwalk fell 49-20 Friday night at home to St. Joseph, but its front line is "as big as Red Lion," according to Trifone.
This Blue Wave team hasn't been one to slam the lockers in celebration or rip its pads off in joy after big wins this season. The defense, which has been businesslike and extremely efficient in nearly every quarter it's played, has dictated that.
But for many, the game against Norwalk will be a three-team affair with a theme of revenge. The seniors who were a part of varsity football in 2008 get the chance to redeem themselves for the loss to New Canaan next Saturday afternoon, when Darien can knock off the Rams without having to play them.