Darien beats New Canaan for second straight FCIAC championship
STAMFORD — Big time players make big time plays in big time games.
It’s as cliché a phrase as there is in sports, but after Darien’s 28-21 FCIAC football championship victory over New Canaan Thanksgiving morning at Boyle Stadium it was the perfect way for coach Rob Trifone to sum up the win.
“It’s as simple as that,” said Trifone, who has lead the Blue Wave to back-to-back FCIAC championships over New Canaan and now has five his career at Darien (3) and McMahon (2). “And they came up when they needed to and made the plays; New Canaan played one heck of a game and they’re a great football team.”
With the win, Darien (9-0) clinched the No. 2 seed in the Class LL playoffs, just fractions of a point behind No. 1 Shelton. The Blue Wave will host FCIAC-rival Staples on Tuesday in the state quarterfinals at a site and time to be determined.
New Canaan (8-1), the defending Class L-Large champion, fell out of the Top 4 and down to sixth with the loss. The Rams will visit No. 3 Windsor in Tuesday’s quarterfinals.
The biggest play came with 4:14 remaining in the contest: Darien quarterback and FCIAC championship MVP Timmy Graham rolled to his right and lofted an 8-yard pass to Hudson Hamill in the back of the end zone. Hamill — who threw the winning TD pass in last season’s FCIAC win over the Rams — made an incredible leaping catch to break the 21-21 tie, hauling in what proved to be the game-winning score.
“The mindset was definitely to get points on the board,” said Graham, who completed 32-of-45 passes for 441 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. “On the second and long we wanted to get half the yardage back and get into a manageable situation but Colin (Minicus) was wide open and all the credit to him for getting open on that play.”
That second-and-34 came after New Canaan’s Mike Cognetta intercepted a Graham pass and the Darien defense held, forcing a 46-yard field goal attempt for the Rams.
New Canaan kicker Peter Swindell — Connecticut’s all-time leader in made field goals — pushed the kick just left to give Darien the ball at its own 36. From there, Graham and the Blue Wave went to work until a penalty and a sack forced the long second down. Graham dropped back and hit a streaking Minicus with a beautiful pass down the right sideline to set up the winning score.
“Championship teams make plays, they made plays, we didn’t,” Rams coach Lou Marinelli said. “They deserved it, they’re well coached they did a great job and when it came time to make the plays, they did, we didn’t and they won.”
The New Canaan defense did intercept Graham twice and Michael Collins threw one touchdown and rushed for another, but couldn’t respond to Darien’s late score.
The Rams had two chances to do so — the first time on a fourth-and-10 that ended when Darien’s Mark Evanchick sacked Collins. With under two minutes left in the game Collins hit Kyle Smith on a deep pass over the middle, but the Darien defense converged and forced a fumble that Christian Trifone recovered to ice the win.
“We’re a special group, especially the seniors,” Graham said. “We’ve been playing since third grade and we’ve been circling this day since third grade and we knew we had to win this game no matter what.”
Andrew DeFranco ran in New Canaan’s other score from a yard out. Collins finished 19-of-40 for 205 yards and a touchdown. For Darien, Hamill caught a 29-yard touchdown in the first quarter and finished with 105 all-purpose yards. Minicus tallied on a 39-yard stop-and-go and finished the day with 10 catches for 169 yards. Darien’s Rock Stewart had a 28-yard score on second-and-25.
The win was the fourth consecutive in the Turkey Bowl for Darien, meaning the senior class has never lost the Thanksgiving rivalry game. Although, New Canaan has twice defeated Darien for the state title in that span.
“That’s special,” Trifone said. “Never to lose the Turkey Bowl over a four-year span, when they were freshman how could they have ever dreamed that? And with back to back FCIAC championships on top of it — you couldn’t have written a better script.”
DARIEN 28, NEW CANAAN 21
DARIEN 7 7 7 7—28
NEW CANAAN 7 7 7 0—21
Records: D 9-0, NC 8-1
NC—Michael Collins 4 run (Peter Swindell kick)
D—Hudson Hamill 29 pass from Timmy Graham (Riley Stewart kick)
D—Colin Minicus 39 pass Graham (Stewart kick)
NC—Andrew Jahns 19 pass Collins (Swindell kick)
D—Rock Stewart 28 pass Graham (Stewart kick)
NC—Andrew DeFranco 1 run (Swindell kick)
D—Hamill 8 pass Graham (Stewart kick)