GREENWICH — It was one of the more dramatic football games of the FCIAC season, with the most anti-climactic of endings.
After a roller-coaster ride which saw a couple of huge momentum swings, the game ended when Greenwich QB James Rinello spiked the ball on fourth-and-one at the 13-yard line, as No. 4 Darien held on for a 27-21 victory over the No. 3 Cardinals Saturday at Cardinal Stadium.
The Blue Wave (6-0) had come out strong, building a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter before the Cardinals (5-1) roared back to tie it 21-21 in the third quarter.
Darien’s defense then regained its swagger, allowing the offense to go back to work. Quarterback Peter Graham connected with receiver Jackson Peters for what proved to be the winning score: A 19-yard touchdown strike with 7:25 to play.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Darien coach Rob Trifone said. “Obviously, we played extremely well in the first half, and then in the second half, two or three of our best players were cramping and we were shuffling people around. All of a sudden, it was a back-and-forth slugfest. You can’t give a team like that so many opportunities, but I was happy with the way we responded.”
The result ended Greenwich’s 18-game winning streak, which dates back to the 2017 Class LL final, when the Cards fell to Darien 31-22 at Stamford’s Boyle Stadium. Greenwich is 30-2 since the start of the 2017 season.
“It’s difficult to come back from a 21-point deficit,” Greenwich coach Anthony Morello said. “Darien is a great football program, a great football program, and we put ourselves behind the eight-ball. We were playing catch-up. I’m proud of this team and these players to be able to come back and put ourselves in a 21-21 tie. That showed a lot of heart. We just ran out of time tonight.”
The loss overshadowed a great performance by Rinello, who was 23-for-32 passing for 290 yards and two touchdowns. His top targets were AJ Barber (5 catches, 48 yards), Kobe Comizio (5-112) and Matthew Pilc (5-46).
“They’re a great football team,” Trifone said. “They have so many weapons and although we sometimes handled Barber, (Pilc) killed us, Comizio killed us, and they have so many different options to go to. It’s very hard to defend.”
The Wave received a great performance from the defense, which consistently got into the Greenwich backfield during the first half. Will Bothwell had three sacks, David Evanchick had two, and Sam Wilson added one.
“Guys like Dave Evanchick and Will Bothwell are just ballers, great players,” Wilson said. “We didn’t have to send a lot of blitzes because we were able to get there with four guys, which helped out a lot.”
On offense, Graham was held in check for much of the second half and finished with 188 passing yards and three TDs. Peters had five catches for 72 yards with two touchdowns, and Will Kirby rushed 12 times for 71 yards and one touchdown.
The Wave put the first points on the board on their opening drive, covering 61 yards on 10 plays. Graham capped the drive with a 10-yard strike to Peters.
An interception and 19-yard return by Peters then set up Darien with a short field, and Graham connected with Ryan Mulliken, this time for 21 yards and a 14-0 lead after one quarter.
After a three-and-out series for the Cards, the Blue Wave went 56 yards on three plays and scored on a three-yard run by Kirby for a 21-0 lead.
Greenwich received a much-needed shot in the arm when Rinello hit a wide open Comizio deep down the middle for a 65-yard TD with 58 seconds to go in the half.
Greenwich crept closer to start the third quarter when the Wave fumbled the opening kickoff and the Cardinals recovered at the Darien 18-yard line. Two plays later, Hunter Clark scored on a 10-yard run to close the gap to 21-14.
Later in the third, AJ Barber caught a 24-yard TD pass from Rinello to get Greenwich all the way back at 21-21.
A sack by Evanchick and a short punt helped the Wave get back in front. Graham threw a 19-yard TD pass to Peters with 7:25 remaining in the game.
Greenwich had one final chance with the ball in the closing minutes and drove from its own 40-yard line into the red zone. On third-and- 11, Rinello hit Mason Muir for 10 yards, but then the Cards rushed to the line and spiked the ball, setting off a Darien celebration.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen a game end on a spike,” Morello said. “I think the kids out there thought it was a first down and we didn’t have any timeouts left. It was a 10-yard gain, but it was something like third-and-12, so we were trying to get another play in there, but the kids couldn’t hear us with the noise.”
“I didn’t even know that it was fourth down,” Darien’s Wilson said. “So I was screaming fake spike because that’s what I thought was going to happen,” Wilson said. “When he spiked it, everyone started going crazy and then I saw the fourth down marker and it was a kind of shock and joy.”
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Will Bothwell, Darien. The senior co-captain and defensive end was part of a great defensive effort for the Blue Wave. He led the team with three sacks, including one for a 12-yard loss which ended a Greenwich drive in the fourth quarter.
“It was a weird ending. I did not like how we played in the second half but our defense rose to the challenge and I’m proud of all of them. We knew we had to come out with everything we’ve got.” – Darien senior co-captain Will Bothwell
DARIEN 27, GREENWICH 21
DARIEN 14 7 0 6 — 27
GREENWICH 0 7 14 0 — 21
D – Jackson Peters, 10-yard pass from Peter Graham (Aaron Sears kick), 5:00
D – Ryan Mulliken, 21-yard pass from Graham (Sears kick), 1:40
D – Will Kirby, 3-yard run (Sears kick), 11:28
G – Kobe Comizio, 65-yard pass from James Rinello (Ben Howarth kick), 0:58
G – Hunter Clark, 10-yard run (Howarth kick), 10:55
G – AJ Barber, 24-yard pass from Rinello (Howarth kick), 3:40
D – Peters, 19-yard pass from Graham (kick blocked), 7:25
Records: Darien (6-0); Greenwich (5-1)
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly attributed the touchdown pass to Ryan Mulliken. Jackson Peters caught that touchdown and finished with two.