Football gets revenge, lives up to reputation against Warde
Will -- can? -- any team will live up to its reputation more than Darien and what it did last Thursday afternoon?
The Blue Wave, anticipated to be one of the most dominant -- if not the best -- defensive squads in Connecticut opened up its season with a 31-0 thumping of Fairfield Warde.
The damage done: Darien held Warde to 97 yards of offense and five first downs. The Mustangs only converted on one third down and moved into Blue Wave territory twice. Darien's Jarrett Gatling put the exclamation point on the win when he picked off Warde senior quarterback Will Halliday and scampered for a 60-yard pick 6, giving the game its final score with 7:28 to go in the game.
"The main thing was, I was in the right place at the right time," Gatling said. "Our coach prepared us well; it was nothing on me."
The win was sweet revenge, as Darien's season-opening loss in 2009 on the road against Warde was one of the more surprising results to start last season. It also prohibited Darien from earning a state playoff berth two and a half months later.
"I think ever since we got on the bus last year we've used it as motivation," Darien head coach Rob Trifone said. "Our team was young last year, so, eight of the kids who played defense against Warde last year were on the field today. A year older, a little bigger, a little smarter -- we hope, football-wise -- and you know what? We didn't do anything fancy."
Indeed it was football of a smash-mouth variety for 18 minutes and 38 seconds -- that was Warde's total time of possession. Trifone said the team only blitzed once, which meant the team stuck to its disciplined game plan and never let Halliday beat them. Warde tried to stick its agenda, too, but time and again that agenda failed.
"They threw the same thing we practiced against all week and in preseason," Mustangs head coach Duncan DellaVolpe said. "They played with fire."
Halliday completed eight of 15 attempts and threw for 48 yards. Senior cornerback/running back Alex Delaney could not get it going, rushing for 20 yards on 10 attempts. But after such a dominant performance, where's the bar located now for the Darien D?
"We can always play better. We've gotta hit more people, less first downs, less yards," Gatling said.
Teammate Graham Maybell has equally high expectations now.
"Our goal is no first downs and not let them gain any yardage," he said. "People say we're the number one defense in the state. We've gotta show that and keep pounding away."
The best sign for Darien and the worst for its future opponents: There were no kinks or quirks or unexpected formations DellaVolpe's team saw from the Blue Wave.
"Unfortunately they didn't do anything different," he said. "They were faster than us. They schemed up, stopped our quick game, our passes out to the screens."
As for Darien's offense, it was extremely proficient under senior Chris Allam, a first-time starter at quarterback. Allam was 7 for 17, 177 yards through the air. But he showed a knack for the big play.
In fact, a knack for two of them. On the game's opening drive, Allam tucked the ball and ran on a third-and-6 from the Mustangs' 14-yard line, creeping into the front-right corner of the end zone for the score with 6:20 remaining.
The 10-play drive settled everyone down, and Allam quickly knew what he was capable of in the offense.
"I had have nerves. There was a lot rumors that I didn't know the offense, I'm new, and that it would be hard for me," he said. "I was thinking about it, but I think I handled it well. [Scoring on the first drive], it was big. And from there I settled down."
Though he would showcase his arm later in the game, Trifone and his coaching staff asked Allam to drop back and pass only once during the opening series. His reasoning:
"My thought is, If you get five or six yards on first down, why throw the ball?" Trifone said. "That's how the first drive of the game went for us. That being said, we had plenty in our arsenal, so if they get sneaky and [the defense] starts to creep up, we'll bang it deep."
The biggest play of the game came in the third quarter. After Jake Weil scored to give Darien a 14-0 lead in the second on a fourth-and-1 call from the goal line, Allam and the Blue Wave were out to end the contest early.
On a third-and-11, Allam rolled left and zinged a ball downfield to Maybell (three catches, 110 yards), who caught it in stride, two steps ahead of Warde's Delaney, and had 15 yards of daylight in front of him before he scored.
"My job's to read high to low, especially on the sprint-outs," Allam said. "If there's nothing there, then I'm running. In the first quarter, after we had success with that, it was then to look deep and then look to run. In the second half it was look to run first, then we found the 70-yard touchdown pass. It was 81 Sprint Out, so I was sprinting out to my left. I was reading [Maybell] the whole time, I saw that he got behind the safety, led him, and that was that."
Trifone, as he said he would in the preseason, ran out a slew of runners with fresh legs against the Warde front line. Darien piled up 192 yards on the ground, led by senior Sean Fahey's 50 yards on 13 attempts. Allam (41), Maybell (35), Christian Bognar (26) and Sam Gisualdi (22) all helped moved the chains consistently.