DARIEN — Lou Marinelli was a man enjoying the moment.
His New Canaan football team had just won its third consecutive Turkey Bowl, secured a home game in the state tournament, and had beaten rival Darien on their home turf.
“It doesn’t get any more perfect than that,” Marinelli said with a smile.
The Rams delivered a dominating performance, scoring twice in the first quarter and shutting out the previously-unbeaten Blue Wave 20-0 for a Turkey Bowl three-peat on Thanksgiving morning at Darien High School.
The Rams now own a 59-32-2 advantage in the 92-year history of the rivalry, which began in 1928, and also ended Darien’s 37-game home win streak which dated back to October of 2012.
“The kids played their rear ends off, they really did,” Marinelli said. “Our kids had a lot to prove. A lot of people doubted them, and then to overcome the injuries that we had and get to where we are now, is a testament to our kids and how hard they worked. They just showed what they can do.”
With the win, New Canaan (8-2) unofficially secured the No. 4 seed for the CIAC Class L quarterfinals, and will host No. 5 Wethersfield (8-2) on Tuesday.
Darien (9-1) suffered its first loss of the season and dropped to the No. 3 seed in the Class LL playoffs. The Blue Wave will host No. 6 Greenwich (9-1), the defending Class LL champion, on Tuesday.
The CIAC will officially announce playoff parings on Friday.
The Rams’ offense didn’t go its usual passing route, instead relying on a heavy dose of the running game. New Canaan ran 49 times for 207 yards, with Christian Carson leading the way with 17 carries, 94 yards, and a third-quarter touchdown. John Wise ran for 42 yards on 14 carries, and quarterback Drew Pyne had 42 yards on 11 carries.
Pyne praised the play of the offensive line.
“All the credit goes to the O-line,” Pyne said. “Ned Brady, Willie Pirrone, Jaden Konspore, Teddy DeClue, and Ben Clay just did an incredible job today — pound and ground. We didn’t throw the ball to much and we didn’t have to. They just did a fantastic job today.”
Overall, the Rams had the ball for 33 minutes and 34 seconds to the Blue Wave’s 14:26.
“They took it to us in both halves,” Darien coach Rob Trifone said. “We got outplayed in every phase of the game, they had a great game plan, and I’ve been trying to warn our players that’s not the same team that lost to St. Joe’s. They got some players back, they moved some personnel around and they’ve been playing very well. They played well today and we did not.”
The Wave also turned the ball over four times, with New Canaan’s Braden Sweeney, Dean Ciancio and Drew Guida all getting interceptions.
The other Darien turnover came at the end of its first possession when, on a fourth-and-3 play, the ball was snapped early and skipped past quarterback Peter Graham.
New Canaan’s Andrew Morse recovered at the Darien 31-yard line. Two plays later, Pyne hit Christian Sweeney over the top for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
“That was an awesome way to start,” Pyne said. “Scoring on our second (offensive) play of the game is always a huge momentum shift. Coming out of the locker room, we really wanted to play hard and play with all our hearts.”
After a pick from Sweeney stopped Darien’s next drive, the Rams went 63 yards on nine plays and scored on a 13-yard run by Pyne to make it 14-0 in the first quarter.
Another long drive early in the second quarter put the Rams in the red zone again, but this time, Darien made the defensive play, as linebacker Sam Wilson intercepted the ball at the 1-yard line.
On the next play, Wilson broke free for a 63-yard run into New Canaan territory.
Instead of turning the tide, however, the Wave stalled and turned the ball over on downs.
“That was very big,” Trifone said. “Those were big plays but we’ve got to take advantage of it. We can’t end up punting or turning the ball over on downs.”
New Canaan went up by three scores late in the third quarter when Carson scored from 3 yards out, capping a drive which started with Ciancio’s interception.
Trailing for much of the game, Darien was forced to rely on the pass and Graham finished 18-for-43 with 207 yards. Receiver Jackson Peters had five catches for 97 yards, and Ryan Mulliken had six catches for 56 yards.
Darien will now try to avoid the same fate as last year when it won its first nine games, lost to New Canaan in the Turkey Bowl and was then eliminated by Newtown in the first round of the state playoffs.
“I don’t care who we face in the quarterfinals, Trifone said. “These kids have to rally and show everyone that the team you saw today, is not our team.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Drew Pyne, New Canaan. Pyne passed for one touchdown and ran for another as the Rams took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter The senior co-captain earned New Canaan’s Jack Dempsey MVP Award, named for the former Ram and Turkey Bowl MVP. Dempsey was a corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps who was killed in action in Iraq in 2004. Jackson Peters, who had five receptions for 97 yards, was named Darien’s MVP.
“This game is something you dream of and this atmosphere was unbelievable. Being a high school kid, having a sold-out game on Thanksgiving day and then spending the rest of the day with the family on Thanksgiving is all you could ask for.” — New Canaan QB Drew Pyne.