The top-seeded Blue Wave took over at their own 29 with five minutes remaining, down one against No. 8 Hand in the Class L state quarterfinals.
Darien methodically drove down the field, using a mix of runs and passes and effectively managing the clock. On the 13th play of the drive, on 4th-and-1 at the Tigers’ 3 with just five seconds on the clock, Trifone brought in kicker Daly Hebert.
After a Hand penalty, the ball was placed near the 1. Hebert’s kick was perfect, and it sent Darien to the semifinals with a dramatic 31-29 victory Tuesday at Casagrande Field on the campus of McMahon High.
The Blue Wave didn’t win the Class L title just yet, but Darien sure kept its championship dreams intact.
“It was a championship drive against a very good team,” Trifone said. “We have been resilient all year long. That last drive of the game kind of epitomizes what this team is about.”
Hand, the two-time defending champion in this class, finishes 8-4.
Hebert also made field goals of 26 and 25 yards in the contest.
“I told him all year long, I said, ‘Daly, you’re going to win a game for us some day. I don’t know how and I don’t know when.’ Of course it had to be a state quarterfinal,” Trifone said.
Said Hebert: “It’s a great experience for me. I dreamed about this since I was a little kid.”
Darien (12-1), which stunned previously unbeaten and then-No. 1 New Canaan on Thanksgiving, will face No. 4 Middletown in Saturday’s semifinals at 2 p.m. at Pomperaug High in Southbury.
Hand, which took a 29-28 lead on a 2-yard run by Dan Rogers on the possession before the Blue Wave’s winning drive, just couldn’t make a stop on Darien’s final possession.
“That’s all we had to do was stop them,” Hand coach Steve Filippone said. “But I think once they got it in (the red zone), that kicker’s leg is so good. Once they crossed midfield we started to burn timeouts and try to figure out how to get the ball back. It was a valiant effort by our kids. They played so hard tonight, and they played so hard all year long.”
After Hebert made a 26-yard field goal to put Darien up 3-0 in the first quarter, Hand responded and took the lead. Reid Sweitzer returned an interception 35 yards for a touchdown and then, later in the quarter, Tommy Wilson scored on a 54-yard run to give the Tigers a 14-3 lead.
The second quarter belonged to the Blue Wave. Darien recorded a safety and Jay Harrison and quarterback Silas Wyper scored on touchdown runs as the Blue Wave led 19-14 at the intermission. Jack Tyrell recovered a fumble for Darien which led to the final score of the first half.
“We just made too many mistakes in like a five-minute period,” Filippone said. “The fumble, the safety; just mistakes you can’t make in this caliber game.”
Hebert’s 25-yard field goal gave the Blue Wave a 22-14 lead in the third quarter, but Hand rallied. A 2-yard touchdown run by Rogers and Conor Dowd’s two-point conversion run tied the game at 22 with 1:27 left in the third quarter.
But Wyper connected with Nick Lombardo on a 66-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the ensuing possession. Hebert’s extra point was no good, and the Blue Wave led 28-22.
In the fourth quarter, Rogers scored on a 4-yard run and Tyler Phan’s point after temporarily gave the Tigers a 29-28 lead before Darien’s winning drive.
Despite the final outcome, Filippone was pleased with his team’s effort this season. The Tigers avoided a rebuilding season even after the graduation of 30 seniors. The young Tigers were demolished by New Canaan in the season opener, but then won six in a row to put themselves in position to return to the postseason.
“We’re very proud of them,” Filippone said.
Wyper completed 23 of 32 passes for 319 yards and one touchdown and overcame three interceptions to help lead his team to victory. Harrison rushed 18 times for 78 yards, while Wyper rushed 12 times for 64 yards.
“Right now we’re real happy,” Wyper said.
Darien 31, Hand 29
Hand 14 0 8 7 0 — 29
Darien 3 16 9 3 0 — 31
D—Daly Hebert 26 FG
H—Reid Sweitzer 35 int ret (Tyler Phan kick)
H—Tommy Wilson 54 run (Phan kick)
D—Hand tackled in end zone safety
D—Jay Harrison 13 run (Hebert kick)
D—Silas Wyper 1 run (Hebert kick)
D—Daly Hebert 25 FG
H—Dan Rogers 2 run (Dowd run)
D—Nicholas Lombardo 66 pass from Silas Wyper (kick failed)
H—Dan Rogers 4 run (Phan kick)
D—Daly Hebert 18 FG
Team records: Darien 11-1; Hand 8-4.