Graham throws two touchdown passes as Darien beats Southington, returns to Class LL title game
SOUTHINGTON — Darien will get another shot at Newtown, this time in the CIAC Class LL football final.
The Blue Wave wore down Southington in the second half, winning 21-12 Monday night in the semifinals at Fontana Field, to reach Saturday’s championship game against the top-seeded Nighthawks.
Newtown ended Darien’s three-year run atop Class LL last season in the quarterfinals.
“We’ve had a chip on our shoulder,” Blue Wave senior receiver/cornerback Jackson Peters said. “After last year, getting knocked out in the quarterfinals after three (championships) in a row, we’ve been working as hard as we can to get back here, put in an insane amount of work.”
Peter Graham threw for two first-half touchdowns for third-seeded Darien (11-1), which never trailed second-seeded Southington (10-2).
Will Kirby’s 16-yard touchdown run put it away after Darien came up empty in a few trips to the red zone. It was his 12th carry of the second half and put him over 100 yards for the night after gaining just 9 yards in the first half.
The Blue Wave, ranked sixth in the GameTimeCT top 10 poll, will meet third-ranked Newtown (12-0) at Trumbull’s McDougall Stadium on Saturday at 3 p.m.
Darien will play in its 16th CIAC final and its sixth in the past seven years, missing only last season after Newtown beat the Blue Wave 25-15. The Wave have won seven championships, the last three, 2015-17, in Class LL. (The other four came in four different classes.)
“Everyone knows, it’s December football,” Peters said. “Everyone’s hurting. We’ve just got to fight through it.”
Johnny Carreiro’s interception gave seventh-ranked Southington its best second-half chance early in the third quarter, deep in Darien territory. After two runs and an incomplete pass, David Evanchick’s first of two second-half sacks got the ball back on downs for the Blue Wave.
Southington didn’t cross midfield again.
“We had a great group of guys. We just couldn’t get the ball in our hands today. We couldn’t capitalize,” said Carter Uhlman, Southington’s leading receiver, who didn’t catch a pass Monday.
“A few things didn’t go our way. We should’ve continued to run the ball. It was working. We didn’t have to force anything down the field. That’s just what happens.”
Dillon Kohn ran 24 times for 138 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown in the second quarter, but he carried only six times in the second half.
Southington, ranked seventh in the GameTimeCT top 10 poll, answered Graham’s first touchdown pass late in the first quarter, to Austin Dehnel, with a 25-yard touchdown pass from Brady Lafferty to Shane LaPorte. (The point-after kick failed, keeping the Blue Knights behind for good.)
The Blue Wave contained the Blue Knights’ passing game otherwise.
“We sent a lot of pressure so the quarterback would have less time to throw it,” Peters said.
“We’ve got a lot of good defensive players on the D-line and in the secondary. We kind of put a lot of pressure on the secondary player and just allowed the D-line to put a lot of pressure on the quarterback.”
That did leave some things open for Kohl. But Kirby, too, got rolling in the second half on a rainy night.
“Having a running back like that is so nice to have,” Peters said. “Being able to hand him the ball, him to break tackles, get first downs that we need: Him and the offensive line, they worked their tails off tonight.”
A nearly eight-minute Darien drive went for naught on the scoreboard in the second half but left Southington pinned deep with nine minutes to go, down two points.
The Blue Knights went three-and-out on their next two drives, and after Michael Minicus took a short punt back to the Southington 16 on the second drive, Kirby’s touchdown run put it away with 5:04 left.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Darien quarterback Peter Graham completed 15 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns.
It misted at times, poured at other times. With snow surrounding the field and the temperature around 50 degrees, it got a bit foggy at times, too.
Darien coach Rob Trifone thought the conditions affected the game a bit, but Graham (who had second-half interceptions on back-to-back throws) downplayed that.
“You’ve just got to deal with it,” the quarterback said.
“We were trying to throw it short. It worked in the beginning. As soon as we started airing the ball out, it was perfectly fine. I didn’t really have a problem with the weather conditions. Just got to embrace it, I guess.”
Darien, at home, beat Southington 24-8 on Sept. 20, the second game of the regular season. Minicus caught three touchdown passes for the Blue Wave in that game, which was sealed by Connor O’Malley’s last-minute interception return for a touchdown. Minicus caught the Wave’s second touchdown Monday.
Both of Southington’s losses, then, came to Darien.
“I still think we have the best defense in the state. We put our defense in a lot of tough situations,” Uhlman said.
Trifone said his thoughts on not trying for a field goal on Darien’s red-zone trips were twofold: The Wave have had some trouble in spots like that, and even if they got the three points to increase their lead, the Blue Knights’ kick-returners concerned him. He’d rather the field position, he said.
“They were afraid of our pass, as they should be. Spots where they give you five-box, you’ve got to run the ball. Kirby’s a good back, as you saw tonight.” — Darien coach Rob Trifone, on getting running back Will Kirby going in the second half
DARIEN 21, SOUTHINGTON 12
DARIEN7 7 0 7—21
SOUTHINGTON6 6 0 0—12
D—Austin Dehnel 32 pass Peter Graham (Garrett Martin kick)
S—Shane LaPorte 25 pass Brady Lafferty (kick failed)
D—Michael Minicus 11 pass Graham (Martin kick)
S—Dillon Kohn 34 run (pass failed)
D—Will Kirby 1 run (Martin kick)
Records: Darien 11-1; Southington 10-2