DARIEN - Unlike the regular season in which the spectacle of New Canaan vs. Darien is mostly for bragging rights and a few points in the standings, the fierce rivalry between the two teams took a back seat to what was on the line Monday afternoon at Darien High School: the right to continue playing for a Class L State title.

Darien's Brennan Branca capitalized on a penalty kick opportunity less than 12 minutes into the game, and the Blue Wave's stingy defense refused to allow the Rams to crack the scoreboard for the final 68 minutes, despite numerous opportunities. With the victory, Darien advances to the quarterfinals, where it will either travel to Stratford to take on No. 4 Bunnell or play host to No. 13 Naugatuck on Wednesday at 2 p.m.

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The win over its biggest rival is the newest chapter in what has become a storybook season for Darien, which is three wins from a State championship banner just one year removed from a two-win campaign.

"We knew this game was going to be really tough. We knew if we scored first we would get the win, and it actually came true, so it's amazing," Darien goalie Jack Fisher said. "No I did not [see Darien making it to the quarterfinals of States before the season]. I knew we had a good squad and we could possibly make it to States. It's truly amazing."

Brennan's penalty kick opportunity was the result of a hand ball which was called against New Canaan within the box. New Canaan coach Victor Sanchez was less than convinced that a penalty shot should have been awarded, believing that the ball incidentally struck the New Canaan defender's hand, which was at his side.

"I didn't agree with it, but it is what it is. Obviously, I'm not a ref and they have a better visual than I do. We have to deal with the setbacks and deal with adversity. Unfortunately, we weren't able to dig ourselves out of that hole," Sanchez said. "It was a great atmosphere, great environment and this is what States should be like. It was a great game and my hat is off to Jon [Bradley] and Darien. They played a great game."

Darien (No. 5, 13-2-3) goalie Jack Fisher and the rest of the Blue Wave defense were at the top of their game in keeping the potent New Canaan offense at bay. After New Canaan goalie Scott Levene came out of net to take a free kick at midfield, Fisher leapt high into the air to swat the ball aside. When the rebound bounced to New Canaan's Alex Robey for a one-touch shot, Fisher dove to his right to make a second save.

After a 1-1 tie in the regular season on the very same field on Oct. 10, Darien was able to eliminate New Canaan, the defending State Champions.

"That was obviously a very good performance. It was a typical FCIAC game where it would be one goal either way," Darien coach Jon Bradley said. "I thought the defensive effort was brilliant. They didn't buckle, and our game plan was executed very well."

Following a New Canaan (No. 12, 9-4-5) corner kick, Jon-Luke Ferrandino nearly pulled his team even with a header, but Fisher got high enough to deflect the ball over the crossbar of the Darien net.

Seemingly every time New Canaan dropped the ball into the Darien box in the game's waning minutes, Blue Wave defender Elliot Helgans was there to head the ball away before the Rams could set up a dangerous scoring opportunity.

For New Canaan, which played in two straight State title games in as many years and came into this season as the defending State Champions, the loss against its crosstown rival was a tough way to go out.

"It's tough to lose this way, especially since we had high expectations. Every State game is a battle, no matter what seed you are," Levene said. "I thought we were going to get one. We had so many chances, but the ball didn't bounce the right way for us today, which happens every once in a while."

Darien, meanwhile, is three victories away from wearing the very same title that New Canaan did in 2010 as a No. 19 seed: an unlikely State Champion.

"It's just fun. We get a chance to play again on Wednesday, and I think one of the biggest achievements is to be unbeaten at home," Bradley said. "You get one day's rest and you go play again."

NEW CANAAN 0 0--0

DARIEN 1 0--1

Records: New Canaan (9-4-5); Darien (13-2-3).

Goals: D--Brennan Branca Goalies: NC--Scott Levene (4 saves); D--Jack Fisher (7). Shots: NC--10; D--7.