Can any team will live up to its reputation more than Darien did Thursday afternoon?

The Blue Wave, anticipated to be one of the most dominant defensive squads in Connecticut, opened its season with a 31-0 thumping of Fairfield Warde.

The damage done: Darien held Warde to 97 yards of offense and just five first downs. The Mustangs only converted on one third down and only advanced into Blue Wave territory twice. Darien's Jarrett Gatling put an exclamation point on the win by picking off Warde senior quarterback Will Halliday and scampering 60 yards for the touchdown, giving the game its final score with 7:28 remaining.

"The main thing was, I was in the right place at the right time," Gatling said. "Our coach prepared us well; it was nothing on me."

The win was sweet revenge for the Blue Wave after Darien's surprising season-opening loss at Warde a year ago. It also prohibited Darien from earning a state playoff berth two and a half months later.

"I think ever since we got on the bus last year we've used it as motivation," Darien head coach Rob Trifone said. "Our team was young last year, so, eight of the kids who played defense against Warde last year were on the field today. A year older, a little bigger, a little smarter -- we hope, football-wise -- and you know what? We didn't do anything fancy."

Indeed it was football of a smash-mouth variety for 18 minutes and 38 seconds -- Warde's total time of possession. Trifone said the team only blitzed once, which meant the team stuck to its disciplined game plan, never letting Halliday beat them. Warde tried to stick its agenda, too, but time and again it failed.

"They threw the same thing we practiced against all week and in preseason," Mustangs head coach Duncan Della Volpe said. "They played with fire."

Halliday completed 8 of 15 attempts, throwing for 48 yards. Senior cornerback/running back Alex Delaney could not get it going, rushing for 20 yards on 10 attempts.

The best sign for Darien and the worst for future opponents: There were no wrinkles or unexpected formations Della Volpe's team saw from the Blue Wave.

"Unfortunately they didn't do anything different," he said. "They were faster than us. They schemed up, stopped our quick game, our passes out to the screens."

As for Darien's offense, it was extremely proficient under senior Chris Allam, a first-time starter at quarterback. Allam was 7-for-17, 177 yards through the air and showed off his big-play ability. On the game's opening drive, Allam tucked the ball away on a third-and-6 from the Mustangs' 14-yard line, sneaking into the front-right corner of the

end zone with 6:20 remaining.

The 10-play drive settled the Blue Wave down, and Allam quickly knew what he was capable of in the offense.

"I had some nerves. There was a lot rumors that I didn't know the offense, I'm new, and that it would be hard for me," he said. "I was thinking about it, but I think I handled it well. (Scoring on the first drive), it was big. And from there I settled down."

Though he would showcase his arm later in the game, Trifone and his coaching staff asked Allam to drop back and pass only once during the opening series.

"My thought is, if you get five or six yards on first down, why throw the ball?" Trifone said. "That's how the first drive of the game went for us. That being said, we had plenty in our arsenal, so if they get sneaky and (the defense) starts to creep up, we'll bang it deep."

The biggest play of the game came in the third quarter. After Jake Weil scored to give Darien a 14-0 lead in the second on a fourth-and-1 from the goal line, Allam and the Blue Wave were out to end the contest early. On a third-and-11 from his own 28, Allam rolled left and zinged a ball downfield to Maybell (three catches, 110 yards), who caught it in stride on the 15 with nothing but daylight between him and the end zone.

"My job's to read high to low, especially on the sprint-outs," Allam said. "If there's nothing there, then I'm running. In the first quarter, after we had success with that, it was then to look deep and then look to run. In the second half it was look to run first, then we found the 70-yard touchdown pass. I was reading (Maybell) the whole time, I saw that he got behind the safety,

led him, and that was that."