New Canaan beats Darien, 21-20, for state title
WEST HAVEN -- It took a bit of role reversal, but New Canaan was able to get the job done.
Two weeks after blowing a 21-point lead over Darien in Thanksgiving's FCIAC championship the Rams made good by coming back from a 13-point deficit to win the CIAC Class L large title 21-20 over the Blue Wave Saturday morning.
It its the second straight state title and 10th overall in the CIAC era for the Rams (11-1), who beat Darien in last year's state final as well.
Despite the Blue Wave keeping Alex LaPolice under close watch for most of the game, it only took one play for him to show why he's one of the most feared weapons in the state.
"It was really unbelievable," LaPolice said after reeling in a 24-yard touchdown pass to give the Rams the lead with 6:59 remaining, and ultimately the victory. "They did a fantastic job against me, you have to give their secondary credit."
Throughout the game it seemed like it would only be a matter of time before La Police did something special, and New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli wasn't the least bit surprised when it happened.
"Absolutely not, absolutely not," Marinelli said when asked if he was caught off guard. "He's the kind of kid, he wants the ball in big situations, he wants to be the guy that catches that touchdown and when you have a kid like that you just say, `go ahead,' and he does it."
The sentiment was echoed almost exactly by LaPolice himself, who told his offensive coordinator he wanted the ball after halftime.
"I told our offensive coordinator if we're going to go down let's go down on my back," the senior said.
It wasn't just LaPolice that took a while to get going as the entire New Canaan offense stalled for the majority of the first half.
The Rams scored first on a 15-yard pass from Michael Collins to Michael Kraus following the first of four Darien fumbles.
From then on Darien (12-1) rattled off 20 straight points on passes from Timmy Graham to Will Hammernick and Griffin Ross as well as a 3-yard run by Hudson Hamill, but failed to convert on an extra point due to a high snap. Graham finished with 165 passing yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions while Hammernick caught five passes for 60 yards and a touchdown.
However, as halftime struck the Blue Wave scoring ended as they were plagued by drops throughout the second half and six turnovers in all -- two interceptions and four fumbles.
"Obviously, you can't drop the ball," Darien coach Rob Trifone said. "We had receivers open and we had the ball in their hands and I don't know how many we dropped in the second half but certainly if you just catch one of them it makes a difference."
The Darien defense did its best to keep the Wave in the game, sacking Collins eight times, with Mark Evanchik chipping in four 41/2.
"They've been the foundation for the whole year," Trifone said of his defensive line. "When we lost George Reed to a torn ACL you think things would start to fall apart and they didn't."
It was the adjustments the Rams made at half that allowed Collins to have a little more time to find receivers. Collins hit Kyle Smith for a 20-yard score on a fourth-and-8 play with 7:57 left in the third to begin the comeback. Collins finished 25-of-48 for 259 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. LaPolice caught eight passes for 71 yards and a touchdown while Smith finished with six catches for 51 yards and a touchdown.
"As the game wore on in the second half we settled in and made a few adjustments with pass blocking," Marinelli said. "And we just let Collins do what he can do. I can't tell you how proud of them I am, just a great group of kids."
Ever the one to deflect credit, LaPolice described his illustrious career at New Canaan in one word; fortunate.
"I was very fortunate," he said. "To be surrounded by great players, great coaches, a great program, a great family and if it wasn't for the people around me I wouldn't be standing in front of you today."
New Canaan 21, Darien 20
NEW CANAAN 7 0 7 7--21
DARIEN 0 20 0 0--20
Records: New Canaan (11-1), Darien (12-1)
D--Will Hammernick 30 pass Timmy Graham (Stephen Walker kick)
D--Hudson Hamill 3 run (PAT failed)
D--Griffin Ross 11 pass Graham (Walker kick)
NC--Kyle Smith 17 pass Collins (Swindell kick)
NC--Alex LaPolice 24 pass Collins (Swindell kick)