Darien football team to clash with North Haven for spot in state tournament
DARIEN -- The playoff scenario facing the Darien and North Haven football teams on Friday night is a rather simple one: Win and you're in.
"Practice has been very spirited. I've been in situations where you're having an average season and it's cold in November and no one really wants to be here," Darien coach Rob Trifone said. "And then I've had seasons like this where we're in a playoff game and it's great."
With identical 8-1 records entering Friday, the winner will certainly have earned its spot in the dance.
"The kids have been into it," Trifone said. "Very focused and spirited and I give them a lot of credit because they're out here two-and-a-half, three hours in the cold."
Winners of five straight, including a 47-23 triumph over Harding on Saturday, Darien has earned its "win and in" status by spreading the wealth on offense. Prior to the start of the season, the Blue Wave suggested they have no stars on offense, but over the course of the year, it seems as if they get a star performance from at least one of their skill position players in nearly every game.
Senior quarterback Silas Wyper has steered the ship with a breakout season that has seen him complete 160 of 249 passes for 2,045 yards, 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions. His favorite targets include junior Griffin Ross (63 receptions for 833 yards and six touchdowns) and home run threat Nick Lombardo (28 receptions for 572 yards and 10 touchdowns).
"We want to be playing in December so we have to win this game. The guys have been focused and motivated and it feels like Week 1 again, which is great," Wyper said. "We just have to execute and offensively we have to take care of the football. We can't be turning the ball over because we know our defense is going to play great against them."
Myles Ridder's (22 carries for 177 yards and four touchdowns) late-season emergence and Jay Harrison's (45 carries for 217 yards and eight touchdowns) hard running between the tackles have kept defenses honest.
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If Darien is to fulfill its preseason dream of getting into the state tournament, its offense will need to fend off the efforts of North Haven junior outside linebacker Zach Kastehuber, who has posted a team-high 11 sacks while recording 61 tackles.
"We have no idea what 33 (Surcai) is like. (Non-FCIAC teams are) hard to gauge. It's different, but it's fun and it'll be a good challenge," Wyper said. "(Kastehuber) is a great player. We have a ton of respect for him. We've seen him make a ton of plays for them on film over their previous nine games, and he's a heck of a player."
While Darien may slightly favor the pass on offense, North Haven is decidedly a running team with senior running back Ethan Suraci setting the pace with 111 carries for 767 yards and 17 scores. Quarterback Michael Halloran has completed less than 40 percent of his passes, but he's made up for it with his legs in the Indians' run-first offense, racking up 614 yards and 10 touchdowns on 112 carries.
Junior running back Cole Peccora (71 carries for 628 yards and four scores) is another threat, and North Haven averages 7.06 yards per carry as a team.
Darien junior defensive end George Reed, who has notched 44 tackles and four sacks, believes this could be a game that is won or lost in the trenches. Fellow defensive end Mark Evanchick has posted team-highs in sacks (nine) and tackles (74), and the defensive line will be charged with the task of slowing down North Haven's explosive ground game.
"It's been a really intense week of practice. States was the goal from day one, and it's driving us," Reed said. "We have a very good d-line, and they also have a very good offensive line, so brute strength and force is going to win this game. They like to play real football up there in North Haven, and it's going to be a battle."
It is within the realm of possibility that the loser of Friday night's tilt could still squeak into the state tournament, but Darien isn't looking to take that chance.
"There aren't a lot of times that we get a chance to go 8-1 versus 8-1 in Week 10," Trifone said. "For all intents and purposes, it's a playoff game. The kids know that and they want that prize."
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