Jeff Jacobs: A two-year fog has lifted, Class LL champ Darien proves it's No. 1 again

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TRUMBULL — Cole Murphy, Darien’s senior defensive lineman who menaced the Fairfield Prep backfield all Saturday afternoon, pointed up at the press box at McDougall Stadium.

“I was in that booth two years ago,” Murphy said after the Blue Wave had demolished the Jesuits, 42-7, in the 2021 Class LL championship. “I had broken my arm. I was working with coach (Andy) Grant, who was my fourth-grade teacher, typing in plays, seeing how much they’d pass and run.

“My football IQ went up a lot that year. But I have two metal plates in my arm right now and I am so lucky to be able to play football. I didn’t think I would. I fell hiking that summer and shattered my humerus in half.”

Murphy didn’t see the play that shattered Darien’s dreams in half on Dec. 14, 2019. He didn’t see Jack Street throw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Riley Ward in the closing seconds to lift Newtown to a transcendent 13-7 win on the seventh anniversary of the horrible Sandy Hook shootings in Newtown.

“It was too foggy, I couldn’t see the field,” Murphy said.

David Evanchick saw it. So did Christian Alliegro. They were on the field. They were left in tears. Mike Forget, in his final game as Darien defensive coordinator, was there, too. He and the Blue Wave staff did a terrific job that day and in days to follow keeping his team composed as Newtown football became a national story. ESPN and on and on. Forget was left with a sick feeling every time the play came on the screen.

“Seeing the fog as we were driving up here got me some flashbacks, definitely,” Evanchick said.

“It was a little daunting when we pulled up today and the fog had rolled in again,” said Forget, in his first year as head coach. “I reassured the guys who were in that game that it’s OK. We’re a different team. This is a different game.”

As Murphy said, “It was time for us to write our own story.”

And so the Blue Wave did and when they were finished there was absolutely no doubt who the No. 1 high school team in the state is in 2021.

“I hope not,” Evanchick said. “If there’s any, we’ll play again. I think everyone will want to play. I hope there’s no debate.”

This was a wonderfully complete game by Darien. Tighe Cummiskey was unstoppable. Jeremiah Stafford broke loose again. Miles Drake and Matt Minicus continued hooking up in the passing game.

Yet it was the defense that was especially dominating.

Fairfield Prep, which had a legit claim at No. 1 before Saturday, had 24 yards and one first down in the first half.

Fairfield Prep had 52 yards and three first downs through three quarters.

After that, the numbers don’t matter.

“We were looking after their quarterback, Connor Smith,” Murphy said. “He can move. He has great feet. Containing him was a huge deal for us. I think we did a great job locking him in the pocket.

“We finally connected our offense and defense, brought it together and became one in the same game. One would start out slow. Or the other would start out slow. Not today.”

No, not Saturday.

“We knew they wanted to establish the run,” Forget said. “Their line was a little bigger than ours, but from a physical standpoint our guys were right there. Once we stopped the run, we knew they had to go to the pass game and we just played a little deeper.”

When Prep finally scored with 1:37 left remaining, the irony was not lost. In 2019, Newtown scored on that end of the field for the touchdown that meant everything. On this Saturday in 2021, Prep scored on that end for a touchdown that meant nothing.

“Yeah, I was bawling my eyes two years ago,” Evanchick said. “That one today, I didn’t care much.”

“On this same exact field we took a knee and we were crying our eyes out,” Alliegro said. “Me and my captains, we said we’re going to get back here our junior and senior years and we’re going to win this thing.”

COVID took care of 2020.

Darien took care of 2021.

“Today, we put all the pieces of the puzzle together,” Alliegro said. “We all balled out.”

Murphy was in on three sacks. Evanchick, the best defensive player in the state, was his normal menacing self. And on and on.

Evanchick.

Murphy.

Alliegro.

Joe Cesare.

Alec Medwar.

Luke Dehmel.

Robert MacLehose.

Sean Quick.

Griffin Steinkraus.

Layton Reesor.

Andrew Fiorenza.

Jack Barber.

Brenton Ingulli.

Did I miss anybody?

“We got a lot of pressure up front,” Evanchick said. “Our guys were getting to (Connor Smith), making him run, making him uncomfortable. Cole Murphy is so underrated. He should be first-team all-state at D tackle.

“Christian was doing his job back there. Alec Medwar. The secondary was lockdown.”

There is always a downside in these state championships, and it was tough to see Ryan O’Connell, a terrific player for Prep, out with a knee injury suffered in the semifinals. “Last game … I feel terrible for the kid,” Evanchick said.

He knows. He has felt the pain on the same field two years ago.

“I was around the 40-yard line, right over there,” Evanchick said. “I kind of just stood there. I saw Will Bothwell throw his helmet. I just looked away and started crying.”

Alliegro was there, too. He was a safety on the opposite side of the field when Jack Street threw up his miracle.

“Three seconds left, they threw it up and scored,” Alliegro said. “I was in shock. I just remember going to the knee in the end zone and the Newtown guys running by me saying, ‘You guys suck. You guys are terrible.’ Whatever. It just gave motivation.”

After their semifinal payback victory over New Canaan last weekend, Cesare said there was no doubt Darien had the best defense in the state. Alliegro just smiled and said, “Absolutely right.”

Forget had been head coach at Fairfield Ludlowe. He had been Darien’s defensive coordinator for eight years before being named interim coach in 2020. The interim tag was dropped earlier this year.

“He’s the best,” Evanchick said. “Defensive coordinator, he was amazing. To do the exact same as a head coach … win a state championship his first year. He’s a little of everything. He’s a great leader. He’s always there for you. You can always count on him.”

This is Darien’s eighth state championship, its first since 2017. Let’s put it this way: You aren’t hired as Darien coach to finish second.

“We probably should have come away with that (Newtown) game,” Forget said. “I think the guys knew they had to finish a game. I think that’s what today was about. Start to finish, give a complete game. That’s what is so phenomenal about this. Top to bottom, coaches, players everybody did their job.”

And now the Blue Wave are back where they believe they belong.

No. 1.

jeff.jacobs@hearstmediact.com; @jeffjacobs123