DARIEN — On Thanksgiving morning, Darien quarterback Peter Graham will lead his Blue Wave teammates onto the field for their annual Turkey Bowl game against rival New Canaan.
It’s a moment that’s been a long time coming for the senior. Nearly a lifetime, in fact.
“I was pretty little,” Graham said of his first Turkey Bowl memory. “My dad was the quarterbacks coach here, so I was pretty young, probably as early as when I was four.”
Graham’s final Turkey Bowl is another key one, as he and the Blue Wave have their sights set on regaining the Turkey Bowl championship, which has gone New Canaan’s way the past two years. Each time, the Rams entered the game needing a win to qualify for the postseason, while Darien was unbeaten.
What a catch by Michael Minicus from Peter Graham as Darien scores again, this time a 28-yard TD. 2-pt fail #cthsfb
34 seconds left in 1Q Darien 12, Southington 0 pic.twitter.com/slxis1hJ4H
— Pete Paguaga (@PetePaguaga) September 20, 2019
This year, it’s nearly the same situation, with the Blue Wave (9-0) having qualified for the Class LL playoffs, and the Rams (7-2) on the brink of qualifying in Class L.
Those records and situations will go out the window as soon as the rivals hit the field at 10 a.m., Thursday, at Darien High School.
“It’s our biggest game and we look forward to this every year,” Graham said. “Thousands of people show up and it’s a great atmosphere. We’re really excited to get a win back and we feel we’re ready for them. If we can execute as a team, we have a good shot at winning.”
The game is an emotional one for the players on both teams, but Graham is well-equipped to handle the moment. He rarely seems rattled and has been resilient during his high school career.
That’s why, after he lost a battle with then-senior Cooper Hancock to be Darien’s starting quarterback last season, Graham didn’t sulk and instead looked forward.
“It was tough for Peter to be the backup behind Cooper, who had earned it, but Peter never wavered one bit,” Darien coach Rob Trifone said. “He knew that this would be his year and he was going to make the most of it.”
Graham has turned into a true star for the Wave this fall.
While all eyes seem to be on the opposing quarterback, New Canaan’s Notre Dame-bound Drew Pyne, it’s actually Graham who has the higher season totals in passing yards (2,318) and touchdowns (24). He’s also turned the ball over just twice.
On 4th and 8 Darien’s Peter Graham hits Michael Minicus for a 33 yard TD. XP no good
— Pete Paguaga (@PetePaguaga) September 20, 2019
Even better for the Wave, Graham has been getting better every game, as his connection grows stronger with a deep stable of receivers.
“Not only does Peter get better every week, he gets better every day,” Trifone said. “You can see that from his reads, and his understanding of the concepts of the offense.”
“I’ve grown a lot and my teammates have helped me with it,” Graham said. “I owe all my success to them – the receivers and the offensive line. We have numbers with the receivers and it’s more than just a couple of guys. Jackson Peters, Michael Minicus, Austin Dehmel, Aaron Sears, Sean Gifford and Ryan Mullikin — those kids are great athletes. They get open and I just get them the ball and they do the rest.”
Football is in Graham’s blood. His father, also named Peter, was a quarterback on Notre Dame’s national championship team in 1988, and his brother, Tim, is a former Turkey Bowl MVP who is currently the starting QB at Dickinson College.
Graham also grew up watching the Turkey Bowl with some of his current Blue Wave teammates.
“It was me, Mark Trifone and Michael Minicus and we’d all be on the sidelines watching each grade come and go,” Graham said. “It’s weird to think that this is finally our last Turkey Bowl. I didn’t really think it would come this quick.”
Trifone is close with this year’s senior class. With his son in that grade, Trifone has coached the players since the third grade, and the time spent with them has given him a unique insight into their strengths and weaknesses.
One of Graham’s strengths is resiliency.
“From the time that he was in the third grade, I’ve taught him that you’re going to throw a bad ball, you’re going to throw it in the dirt, you’re going to get sacked and you’re going to throw a pick,” Trifone said. “It’s how you respond to those that determine your success. He’s done a marvelous job of learning how to cope with obstacles.”
That will serve him well when the hype hits overdrive and the game kicks off Thursday morning. As an added bonus for the Wave, it will be the first rivalry game at Darien High School since 2012.
“Just focus and try not to let the crowd or anything impact me,” Graham said. “It’s exciting to be out there and try to get the win back for Darien. It’s really cool to have it back here at home so that’s going to be interesting.”