With FCIAC title, a Darien defensive legacy is secured
TRUMBULL -- Who's to say when it precisely happened, but at some point during the second half, Darien broke the will and spirit of Trumbull.
Because of that, the Darien football program has its fourth FCIAC title-game win in program history, and this iteration of the Blue Wave --this swell, if you will -- did it in the best way possible. It did it with defense in the 17-7 win.
There'd be no more appropriate way to have all of this fleshed out, right?
A legacy was made Friday night. No matter what happens from here on out, the Blue Wave will be remembered for their 2010 conference and county title run because of the 11 men on the opposite side of the ball.
How fitting, how appropriate, the group kept a prolific Trumbull offense, an able and beefy-sized opponent, in check for 58 of 60 minutes. Darien did it on at Trumbull's McDougall Field. It did it in steadily dropping temperatures, ones that started at 40 degrees for the opening kickoff and finished at 29 by the time poor Rob Trifone got his Gatorade bath.
Trifone, the Blue Wave coach, said it was the best defense he'd overseen since his 1994 Brien McMahon team, which dealt out a still-standing FCIAC-record nine shutouts.
"They simply rise to the occasion -- and this was a good offense they faced tonight," Trifone said. "They come into Trumbull, home of the Eagles, for an FCIAC championship, and to take it away from them on their home turf? That's quite a feat by the FCIAC defense."
Surely there was motivation aplenty for the Blue Wave. Despite being the only team in the conference without a loss on the ledger, they were the ones forced to travel to a site that could accommodate a huge crowd. Trumbull just so happened to be the destination. That sort of hurdle sent the team, specifically senior linebacker Jake Weil, into a frenzy to start the game.
Weil's had surgery on his right shoulder, had issues with his left shoulder and also had hip impingements put into his body in the past two months. Until Friday night, he didn't make it a public talking point.
"I have not felt any pain since a week or two ago, so coach T (Trifone) looked at me and said, `Today's your day. You've got to step up, this is the time we really need you,'" Weil said.
No player was as animated, impactful or terrorizing in the first half as Weil. He contributed on eight tackles. Soon enough, Trumbull just did the best it could to ignore his side of the field. Tough to do against a middle linebacker, though.
"We're not worried -- we're never worried," Weil said. "We come into every single game thinking, We got it. Even when it's 0-0 in the locker room, some kids had their head down. The others picked them up."
Indeed it was a zip-zip game after 24 minutes. The Darien offense turned the ball over three times. Fortunately, the team's defense kept the scales balanced, forcing three Trumbull turnovers in the first half, too.
"I believe we have the best four defensive linemen in the state," Graham Maybell, game MVP, said. "And then you've got a great linebacking corps with Jake Weil, who showed up tonight, laid some hits that I've never seen him lay before. He laid some brutal hits. And then the secondary did a great job."
Charlie Kunze was part of that four-man rush Maybell talked about. He got into the backfield practically every other play of the game. Kunze-Weil-Maybell was the foundation of each tier of the defense that was so sturdy this season. It hasn't been a flashy group; perhaps that's why Weil's geriatrics in the first half seemed so stark.
"We liked what we saw on film from them," Kunze said. "But they played great. They're a great team."
Weil's fumble recovery with 10:24 left in the first quarter helped halt Trumbull's second-biggest threat to score. Prior to the turnover, the Eagles marched more than 50 yards in five plays.
"At the start of it we were all a little anxious to see what was going to happen because we had a new defensive coach and didn't know how it was going to be," Weil said.
This realization that an FCIAC title could be won, that going undefeated in the conference was more than just hope and believe -- rather, legitimate fruition on the horizon -- came after the Red Lion game, when the team trailed 20-7 heading into the second half and came back to win.
"That was a big, big stepping stone for us," Maybell said. "That was one of the best teams we faced all year. No disrespect to Trumbull, they're a great team, but that Red Lion game solidified us as a powerhouse in Connecticut. When we won that game we knew we had picked it up and wouldn't lose from there on out."
There is time for offensive talk, too, though. After all, this win did feature one of the calling signs of 2010 Darien football: the huge offensive play at the perfect moment.
That whole breaking-Trumbull's-spirit thing alluded to above: Maybe Maybell's touchdown was what did it. Maybe it was Baker's catch. Or Allam's throw. Regardless, in a game themed by Darien's D, the offense showed up in a few big, critical moments.
"We were hoping for it all week," Allam said of his big play to Baker. "We hadn't been running our Jet series, so we implemented that in the second half, saw he (Baker) was getting one-on-one coverage. ... We were very confident. I was very confident in the game plan."
They hoped and talked as they shared many a meal. Much of this Blue Wave team eats dinner as a massive group four times per week. They appear to treat each other as equals.
Normally when football teams celebrate a championship, you'll see them pared down to different parts of the field within 60 seconds of taking the celebratory team photo. But the entire group, save for the few picked to stay behind for interviews, slowly drifted off the field together.
Also, what's so remarkable about the win, the reaction, was how businesslike it was. Sure there were some hugs, smiles galore and a boys-will-be-boys celebration on the field, but after the trophies were handed out? On to the next game. That's the mindset. There was an expectation amongst this group, and despite this significant win (it's the first FCIAC title in 12 years for Darien football) and the team's 10-0 record, there's a full quarter of the season to go.
"We're not done. We are not done," Kunze said. "Hopefully we've got four games left. We're not done. We've got the Turkey Bowl against New Canaan in six days. We're not satisfied yet."