NEW CANAAN -- At first glance, Darien High's 4-0 boys soccer victory over New Canaan in the first round of the Class L state tournament Friday was a bit of a stunner. Look a little deeper, however, and it shouldn't have surprised anyone.
New Canaan was favored because the Rams came in the higher seed, lost four fewer regular-season games, and qualified for the FCIAC playoffs. The Rams also beat Darien back on Oct. 8.
But consider the following: New Canaan (9-5-3), seeded 15th, came into Friday's game 1-4-1 in its previous six games while Darien (9-7-1), seeded 18th, went 3-1-1 in its last five. Then the Rams' best defender, Robert Valente, was injured in the first half and did not return, helping Darien forward Spencer McMullin, who scored twice. Throw in the fact that the visiting Blue Wave wanted revenge and it all added up to a rousing Darien victory.
"We dominated from start to finish," Darien coach Jon Bradley said after the Blue Wave earned a second-round date against No. 2 Joel Barlow. The game was scheduled for Sunday at 2 p.m. at Barlow but Bradley was hoping the CIAC would change it to Saturday because McMullin, a Mormon, can't play Sundays for religious reasons.
McMullin scored in the game's 17th minute and then gave the Blue Wave a 2-0 lead three minutes into the second half. The Rams, who lost Valente to a leg injury 10 minutes in, had no answer for Darien's high-scoring senior.
"When you lose a key player like Robert so early, it hurts," New Canaan coach Victor Sanchez said. "We could've kept up with (McMullin) if Robert was out there, but we just couldn't adjust to (McMullin's) speed."
In fairness, Darien also lost a key player when Brennan Branca left with an ankle injury in the first half.
"It's a shame when big injuries occur in what could be the last game of the season," Bradley said.
Once McMullin made it 2-0 with 37:04 remaining in the second half, the Rams, who won the state championship in 2010, got desperate.
"We had to push forward," Sanchez said. "Once we got down 2-0, it didn't matter if we lost 2-0 or 4-0."
With 27 minutes remaining, Darien took a 3-0 lead when Ben Highton took a pass from Jonathan Gill and headed it past NC goalie Michael Powell (six saves). Marcus Iqbal then knocked a shot past John O'Rourke (two saves) with 22:26 left to play.
Darien 4, New Canaan 0
DARIEN 1 3--4
NEW CANAAN 0 0--0
Records: Darien 9-7-1, New Canaan 9-6-3.