DARIEN -- The 2012 season has been smooth sailing thus far for Darien's football team, but its first major challenge is looming right around the corner in the form of a rejuvenated and suddenly experienced St. Joseph squad, which boasts 23 seniors.
Despite watching the Cadets struggle to a 4-6 record in 2011 -- they were 1-6 before winning their last three -- Darien coach Rob Trifone isn't the least bit surprised at St. Joseph's early-season success. As a matter of fact, the sixth-year Blue Wave head coach expects a dogfight on Saturday.
"I kept saying `St. Joseph' in the preseason. I saw those kids and I knew they were going to be good," Trifone said. "I think it's going to be a war. We're a good football team, and so are they. Last year was not a normal year for St. Joe's. It's not going to be the way it was those first two weeks with a big halftime lead where we could empty the bench."
Standing at 1-1 after a competitive 49-28 defeat at the hands of league-favorite Staples in the opener and a 34-0 shellacking of Wilton, St. Joseph could cement its belief that last season's struggles were an aberration with a win on Saturday.
"We played a lot of underclassmen last year because we only had eight seniors. The underclassmen were forced into action, but it was a good experience for them. They learned physical part of game, the speed of game and they worked hard through the mental part of game," St. Joseph coach Joe Della Vecchia said. "Darien is a great program. They're very disciplined, they don't make too many mistakes and we've got our hands full."
After a pair of relatively easy wins (41-7 at Fairfield Ludlowe and 44-21 at home against Fairfield Warde), Darien fully expects St. Joseph to present the biggest challenge of the season to date.
The Blue Wave have displayed plenty of offensive fireworks in two games -- scoring nine touchdowns of 26 yards or more -- but they know they'll face a more than formidable challenge against a St. Joseph defensive unit that just pitched a shutout against Wilton.
"This is definitely one of the best defenses we've played so far, and it's definitely one of the best teams in the FCIAC," Darien quarterback Henry Baldwin said. "They were a young team last year, they've gotten older and they're very good this year. We're excited. It's going to be one of our biggest tests."
Darien has the challenge of compensating for injured running back Peter Gesualdi, who missed the first game with an injury and exited last week with an ankle injury. The Wave hope to have the versatile Gesualdi back for next week's home game against Danbury. In the meantime, the rest of the Blue Wave offense has been able to pick up the slack in his absence.
Nick Lombardo, in particular, has found a great rhythm with Baldwin, hauling in five touchdown receptions, all of which were 33 yards or more.
Della Vecchia knows it will take a great effort for his defense to stop the Wave's explosive aerial attack.
"We've got to play smart and do our assignments. We played good defense for three quarters against Staples, then made mistakes and fell apart," Della Vecchia said. "They're going to make plays, but we've got to limit the big plays that they make."
The Darien defense clashes with a St. Joseph offensive unit that has produced 62 points in its first two games, thanks in large part to junior quarterback Jordan Vazzano. The 6-foot-3, 210-pound Vazzano, one of the FCIAC's breakout players, has thrown five touchdowns and run for another. Other St. Joseph threats include running back Joey Civitella and receivers Denzel Moscova and Mark Hirshbeck.
"(Vazzano) has got to just keep doing what he's doing; he's getting more comfortable each day and each week," Della Vecchia said. "We've just got to maintain our balance, be able to run the ball a little bit, the receivers have got to keep doing their job and our offensive line is playing well protecting the quarterback."
"They've got a lot of weapons," Trifone said. "The quarterback is a great one and they've got four or five kids that can go up and catch the ball and two or three running backs."
Darien scored an easy 31-7 win at St. Joseph last year, but according to Baldwin, last year's result won't have anything to do with what happens this year.
"They remember that game and they're coming out hard," Baldwin said. "We played well last year, but they're two totally different teams."
Darien and St. Joseph kick off at 1:30 p.m. at Darien High School on Saturday.
email@example.com Twitter: @jchik17