Undefeated New Canaan football team prepares for Turkey Bowl with Darien
Published 7:39 pm, Tuesday, November 26, 2013
What a difference a year can make.
At this time in 2012, one-loss New Canaan paid a visit to three-loss Darien for the annual Turkey Bowl.
The Rams were riding a 10-game unbeaten streak against their border rival; the Blue Wave were looking to buck that trend. The Rams were state tournament bound regardless of the outcome; Darien had been eliminated from playoff contention and was looking to close its season with a bang.
The Blue Wave did exactly that with a 36-23 victory over the visiting Rams, crawling out of an early 14-0 hole.
And even though Darien picked up its first win over New Canaan since a 24-21 victory in 2001, the feel for this year's game -- slated for Thanksgiving at 10:30 a.m. at New Canaan's Dunning Stadium -- is about the same for both teams.
"Everyone's kind of moved on from our last game and is focusing in on Darien now," New Canaan offensive lineman and captain Joao Rocha said. "I'd like to say it's just another game, but it's always a little more special. A lot people come to these games. Last year is behind us."
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"We're still coming in with the same workman mentality," Darien center Alex Gunn said. "New Canaan is going to be better than they were last year. They kept a lot of their starters and they're going to be hungry and we need to come out with the mentality that we need to hold the trophy."
For the Rams, perfection remains a distinct possibility, having just picked up their second win over St. Joseph on Friday, this time by a 31-14 margin to capture the FCIAC championship. The short week presents challenges, but the Rams appear to have "turned the page" on their title game victory.
"One thing we preach all season is turning the page, good or bad," New Canaan running back Frank Cognetta said. "We won an FCIAC championship, and that's great, but we have Darien coming up next. Turkey Bowl is a big mark on our calendar, so we're just trying to look forward to doing the right things there."
New Canaan has already punched its ticket to the Class L tournament and is currently ranked No. 1. Darien coach Rob Trifone believes the Blue Wave will make the Class L playoffs win or lose, even though the Blue Wave have yet to officially clinch. For both teams, a win or a loss could be the difference between a home quarterfinal in the state tournament or having to open on the road.
"(Practice has) been really cold, but it's been spirited," Darien running back Jay Harrison said. "We hadn't won in 11 years, so it would be pretty nice for our grade to be two-time Turkey Bowl winners."
"It's a short week, so right from the bat we're trying to get as much work as we can," Cognetta said. "We played on Friday and we play on Thanksgiving, so it doesn't give us much time to have bad practices. We're trying to have as positive of practices as we can and see where we go from there."
Darien's offense has seen senior quarterback Silas Wyper distribute the ball to top targets Griffin Ross and Nick Lombardo with great success, and Harrison and Myles Ridder have also been able to pound the rock. Darien's balanced attack through the air and on the ground makes it difficult for opposing defenses to form a game plan.
"Every game from North Haven on is a playoff game, so we have the playoff vibe with us and it's the first time I've been part of a team that's been in the playoffs, and it's a good feeling," Lombardo said.
Quarterback Nick Cascione has enjoyed a stellar senior season for the Rams, and he too has no shortage of weapons. All season long, the receiving trio of Jack Gilio, Cole Turpin and Alex LaPolice has left defenses wondering who the Rams will go to next, and the hard-nosed running back duo of Cognetta and Morgan Carson have run the ball effectively enough to keep the opposition honest and then some.
"I would say Darien is a very tough defense and we need to respect them," Carson said. "So we're working this week to find ways to play against them."
The Rams will have to fend off Darien's talented defensive end tandem of Mark Evanchick and George Reed, as well as the likes of fellow leading tacklers Andrew Nault, Myles Ridder and Tim Lochtefeld, among others.
Due to the imposing fronts on both sides of the ball for both teams, the Rams and Wave alike believe that this game will be won or lost in the trenches, perhaps even more so than usual.
"They have great skill people, but their strength is up front on both sides of the ball. They're the best we've seen all year long," Trifone said. "You can't get behind on them, and you can't let them control the ball because they run 80 plays a game, which is almost unheard of in high school."
"Watching film, we've been able to highlight quite a few (Darien) guys that can make plays on any down," Rocha said. "I like to think every game is won or lost in the trenches, but this one especially."
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