DARIEN – Somehow, the Darien football team knew it was going to come down to this.
One win away from a perfect season. One win away from a state title. And wouldn’t you know it? Arch-rival New Canaan is the one standing in its way once again.
The top-seeded Blue Wave earned an awaited rematch with New Canaan in the state championship game using the running of senior fullback Peter Archey and junior halfback Shelby Grant and a shut-down effort on defense to post a 42-12 victory over No. 4 Naugatuck in the Class-L Large semifinals Saturday afternoon at the Darien High School field.
Archey rushed for a game-high 118 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries while Grant added 97 yards and two scores to lead Darien (12-0), which led 42-0 before Naugatuck (9-3) scored two late touchdowns.
Grant scored on runs of 20 and three yards.
Darien advanced to its 12th state championship game where it will look to avenge last year’s 44-12 loss to New Canaan in the Class L finals. The Rams advanced with a 27-14 win against No. 3 Wethersfield. Darien defeated New Canaan in the FCIAC championship last week, 28-21 in overtime.
“That’s what we’ve been working so hard for this year. We knew it was going to come down to us against New Canaan,” said Archey, who scored Darien’s first two touchdowns on 3-yard runs as Darien jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead. “That’s why we’ve been training so hard. That’s kind of been our thing this year. So we’re ready.”
The Blue Wave dominated the Greyhounds on both sides of the ball, particularly on defense. Darien’s pass rush, led by junior standout Mark Evanchick, gave Naugatuck senior quarterback Jason Bradley no time to throw. He completed just two of his first 12 passes in the first half and finished 7-for-19 for 110 yards and two interceptions.
Darien forced three turnovers, sacked Bradley two times and stood firm against the run, holding junior running back Antoine Sistrunk to just 69 yards on 18 carries.
Naugatuck, coming off a 47-12 setback against Ansonia on Thanksgiving, gained just 93 yards in the first half. At that point, the Blue Wave led 35-0.
Evanchick and Charlie Travers collected sacks for New Canaan while Christian Trifone and Hamill had interceptions. Hamill also helped contain standout senior receiver Bryan Coney (four catches, 81 yards) with great work at left cornerback.
“The pass rush was a big factor and we knew that coming in,” Naugatuck head coach Craig Bruno said. “I thought their defense played very well. We didn’t have a lot of creases or a lot of space that we’ve been used to a little bit. Darien is a talented team. They’re very balanced in a lot of different areas.”
Naugatuck was hoping to force the Blue Wave to throw the ball by stacking the line on defense, but Darien ran it anyway, building a 28-0 lead in the second quarter on the strength of its ground attack.
“That wasn’t our game plan. The textbook would tell you to throw the ball in that situation, so we ran the ball,” Darien head coach Rob Trifone said with a chuckle. “We just felt like we were going to be able to move them off the ball whether they were (trying to stop the run) or not. We ran Shelby and Archey quite a bit. It’s been that combination all year.”
Archey ran the ball three times for 62 yards on the opening possession of the game, tearing off a 55-yard run before barreling in from three yards out to give Darien a quick 7-0 lead.
Darien was coming off a 28-21 overtime victory against New Canaan in the FCIAC championship game on Thanksgiving, coming back from a 21-0 deficit to post the stunning victory.
“We wanted to make a statement in this game because some people said we shouldn’t have gotten that FCIAC win, that we sneaked it out,” Archey said. “So we wanted to come out and make a statement and basically tell New Canaan we’re ready for them.”
Junior quarterback Tim Graham got off to a slow start, but once Darien started having success on the ground, the passing game picked up. Graham completed 13 of 24 passes for 185 yards and two first-half touchdowns, a 23-yard connection with Hudson Hamill and a 15-yard toss to Todd Hegret.
Herget had four catches for 40 yards while Griffin Ross caught five passes for 37 yards. Colin Minicus had three receptions for 85 yards, coming a shoestring tackle away from scoring on a 66-yard pass in the first half.
“When you play someone from another league you really don’t know,” Trifone said. “That quarterback was good and they had good athletes on the perimeter. So I thought our guys did a wonderful job.”
Darien used a fake punt at the end of the first quarter to take control. The Blue Wave faced a fourth-and-7 at the Naugatuck 43 when punter Stephen Walker hit Tim Lochtefeld with a 36-yard pass down to the 12. Archey ran it in from three yards out three plays later to make it 14-0.
“I knew it would work and I knew it would break their backs,” Trifone said.
Lochtefeld forced a fumble by Siststrunk two plays later and Christian Trifone recovered. Darien turned it into a 21-0 lead as Hamill wrestled the ball away from Naugatuck defensive back C.J. Wall on a post pattern with 8:41 left in the second quarter.
Darien scored on its next two possessions to take an insurmountable 35-0 halftime lead.
Naugatuck scored on a 14-yard touchdown run by Sistrunk to make it 42-6 and backup quarterback Tyler Deitlebaum hit sophomore Josh McFarland on a 40-yard scoring pass with 51 seconds left.
The Blue Wave will now face a New Canaan team bent on revenge for the second straight season.
“For the second year in a row, New Canaan gets their rematch because for the second year in a row, we beat them on Thanksgiving,” Trifone said. “For them, emotions will be high. We need to have a different approach this year because last year I thought our kids went into last year’s game a little satisfied.”
Darien 42, Naugatuck 12
Naugatuck 0 0 6 6 — 12
Darien 7 28 7 0 — 42
D – Peter Archey 3 run (Stephen Walker kick)
D – Archey 3 run (Walker kick)
D – Hudson Hamill 23 pass from Tim Graham (Walker kick)
D – Shelby Grant 20 run (Walker kick)
D – Todd Hegret 15 pass from Graham (Walker kick)
D – Grant 3 run (Walker kick)
N – Antoine Sistrunk 14 run (run failed)
N – Josh McFarland 40 pass from Tyler Deitlebaum (pass failed)
Team records: Naugatuck 9-3; Darien 12-0