STAMFORD — One streak continued and one ended before thousands of spectators at frigid Boyle Stadium’s snow covered field Saturday. And the streak that continued gave Darien what it’s used to receiving this time of year — the CIAC Class LL football championship.
Third-seeded Darien once again, rose to the occasion in the biggest of games, enabling it to add a championship trophy to its display case for the third straight season.
Behind a 21-point first half, Darien posted a 31-22 victory over top-seeded Greenwich in the championship game of the Class LL Tournament in a classic matchup that was much closer than the final score indicated.
This thrilling snow bowl saw the Blue Wave hold just a 24-22 edge on the Cardinals in the final minutes of play, before scoring a late touchdown to secure its third consecutive Class LL title and seventh overall. The Blue Wave snapped Greenwich’s 12-game winning streak and halted its quest to claim its first state title since 2007.
“To say we worked hard for this win is an understatement,” said Darien coach Rob Trifone, who has coached the Blue Wave to five-straight finals and sixth overall since taking over in 2007.
“With the adversity we’ve faced, we’ve had to pull out a little bit of a Houdini against three high school football teams in the playoffs, especially Greenwich. They are as good a team as I’ve seen in the past several years. It was a back-and-forth game and Greenwich could have easily won that game. I’m so happy for our team.”
Senior quarterback Jack Joyce passed for 102 yards and threw two scoring strikes in inclement weather for the Blue Wave.
“Winning this game and the title feels so good, I can’t explain it,” Joyce said. “The weather was tough, but once we got into the game it was not that big of a deal, it was fun. Greenwich has one of the best defenses in the state, but we stepped up.”
Junior Gavin Muir threw for 280 yards with two touchdowns and senior Zach Moore kicked three field goals for the Cardinals, who lost to the Blue Wave in the quarterfinals of last season’s tournament.
“We have come a long way and this especially hurts for our senior class, but they can hold their heads up,” GHS coach John Marinelli said. “The way they represented the town, our program, I can’t say enough about them.”
Darien, which never trailed, scored the game’s first touchdown with 10:03 remaining in the first quarter, while only driving 10 yards. While fielding a low snap on a punt after Greenwich went three-and-out on its first possession, Moore’s knee hit the turf on the 10-yard line and he was ruled down.
Joyce was sacked by Greenwich senior defensive end Tyler Blizzard, backing the Blue Wave up to the 19-yard line. But on the ensuing play, Joyce connected with junior receiver Tyler Herget, who made a diving, one-handed reception. Austin Hagander’s extra point gave Darien a 7-0 advantage.
“Our receivers have been doing that all year,” Joyce said. “They have been the reason why balls like that are complete.”
Said Trifone: “That helped set the tone. You get out early on that against a team that’s not used to being down, it’s important. We have a little more experience in the state playoffs and I think it helped.”
Greenwich’s ensuing drive stalled at Darien’s 40-yard line, courtesy of junior linebacker Connor Fay. The Blue Wave extended its lead to 14-0 when Joyce broke loose for a 41-yard touchdown run, in which he found a hole through the left side.
The Cards closed to within 14-7 on Muir’s 5-yard touchdown pass to senior Henry Saleeby with 4:12 to go in the second quarter. Junior Tysen Comizio’s 37-yard run keyed the drive.
Darien regained a two-score lead when junior TJ Cornacchia snared a 23-yard touchdown pass from Joyce while falling to the turf, putting his team on top, 21-7 at the 11:09 mark of the second quarter.
“After the Turkey Bowl (a loss to New Canaan) we knew we had to step it up and we definitely did that today,” Cornacchia said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game, but we stepped up.”
Darien coach Rob Trifone on winning his third-straight Class LL title, with thoughts on a possible third-straight No. 1 ranking, and had choice words about how his team has been perceived since the suspensions #cthsfb pic.twitter.com/44ZBhSOl6h
— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) December 9, 2017
Senior Jael Negron made an impressive reception down the right sideline for a 41-yard touchdown with 3:48 left in the second quarter, slicing the Blue Wave lead to 21-13. Greenwich then stopped Darien on the 1-yard line the final second of the opening half, keeping it a one-score game.
The Cardinals held the Blue Wave to an Austin Hagander 37-yard field goal for most of the second half, while Moore connected on field goals from 25, 36, 38 yards. His 38-yarder with 7:12 left brought GHS to within 24-22.
“They punched us in the mouth in the first half and when we went into the locker room at halftime, we knew something had to change,” Blizzard said. “We didn’t want to get blown out in the state championship and we wanted to prove we could hang with them and beat them.”
Greenwich moved toward field goal range with five minutes left, but a penalty moved them back 10 yards. On their ensuing drive, another penalty sent the Cards back 15 yards close to their own 20 with two minutes remaining.
“Darien executed early, that was their experience coming out,” Marinelli said. “The second half, I thought we settled down. We were on the verge of field goal range at the end, but we had some penalties.”
Senior Mitch Pryor capped the win, running it in from three yards out with 18 seconds remaining. Senior Kevin Grune, who helped power Darien’s defense, had an interception.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Joyce threw for two touchdowns and ran for another under difficult playing conditions.
“It was an incredible ride, it’s tough to go out this way, but I don’t regret one minute of the season,” Saleeby said. “Our underclassmen gave us a lot of help.”
“These seniors wanted another title and we got it,” Grune said. “It’s pretty surreal. Greenwich threw some wrinkles at us, but we stood our ground and finished it off.”
DARIEN 31, GREENWICH 22
DARIEN 14 7 0 10 — 31
GREENWICH 7 6 3 6 — 22
D — Tyler Herget 19 pass Jack Joyce (Austin Hagander kick)
D — Joyce 41 run (Hagander kick)
G — Henry Saleeby 5 pass from Gavin Muir (Zach Moore kick)
D — TJ Cornacchia 23 pass from Joyce (Hagander kick)
G — Jael Negron 41 pass Muir (Moore kick)
G — Moore 25 field goal
D — Hagander 37 field goal
G — Moore 36 field goal
G — Moore 38 field goal
D — Mitch Pryor 3 run (Hagander kick)
Darien: Passing — Jack Joyce 11-24-102, 2 TD, 0 INT; Rushing: Mitch Pryor 18-69; Jack Joyce 20-113; Andrew Lucas 2-10; Receiving: Max Grant 3-26; Tyler Herget 4-66; Alex Dehmel 1-10; TJ Cornacchia 2-31; Greenwich: Passing — Gavin Muir 15-34-280, 2 TD, 1 INT; Rushing: Tysen Comizio 27-110; Gavin Muir 3-14; Receiving — Comizio 4-0; Henry Saleeby 4-64; Jeremiah Harris 1-12; Elias Gianopoulos 1-52; Jael Negron 2-80; Stephen Bennett 1-14; Jack Warren 1-47.