Gisualdi breaks off 166 yards on the ground

The Blue Wave is two for two in revenge games this year.

Darien football lost three games last fall, and now two foes who felled the team have been on the receiving end of some payback. The first was a 31-0 thumping of Warde two weeks ago in the season-opener, and Saturday afternoon, St. Joseph, which defeated Darien 21-10 last year, felt the wrath of the Blue Wave running attack.

Darien sophomore Peter Gisualdi ran for 166 yards and a touchdown to help lift his team to a 13-10 Homecoming Game win. Gisualdi averaged a cool 5.53 yards per tote and was helped by senior teammate Graham Maybell, who had the longest run of the day (16 yards) and a total of 70 yards on 12 carries.

"I've learned from Graham Maybell and I've really looked up to him," Gisualdi said. "He's helped me a lot through the first three games this year."

Darien didn't have an ideal first half, however. St. Joseph had a 10-0 lead heading into the break after L.J. Hunt returned a Maybell fumble -- caused by a Sean Chinova helmet-on-ball hit -- 83 yards for a touchdown with 3:43 remaining in the second quarter. The Cadets took advantage of the second Blue Wave turnover when, on the first play from scrimmage after the Hunt score, Brendan Donegan made a diving interception off a Chris Allam pass 25 yards down the field.

Joe DoCarmo's 20-yard field goal as time expired gave the Cadets a 10-point lead.

Maybell had trouble holding on to the ball on handoffs and kickoffs throughout the first half, but his head coach didn't lose faith -- it was Maybell who helped put Darien on the board on the team's first drive of the second half.

"I grabbed Graham at halftime and I said, `Look, Graham, people fumble the ball the time. It's over.'" Darien head coach Rob Trifone said. "I said, `You're gonna make up for it, and obviously he did with a couple of big plays."

At the half Darien had 99 yards rushing and zero passing. The team's 11-play drive to start the second half was the perfect time to display Allam's arm. After a holding call stalled the drive, on a first-and-23 from the St. Joe's 43, Allam found Willie Weinstock for a 25-yard pass. It was that play that got the bench and crowd going.

Trifone and his coaching staff smelled blood. And with that, they took a big gamble that paid off. On a fourth-and-11 from the St. Joe's 20, Allam threw to a crossing Maybell, who caught the ball, bounced off two tackles like a pinball and curled along the sideline, free of any more tacklers for a touchdown. The extra point was blocked by St. Joe's Trevor Dalling, but Darien had momentum.

"We saw some things in their secondary that we tried to exploit on that one drive -- and we were able to," Trifone said. "By in large, though, we knew were going to try and run at them [for most of the game]."

Darien again lived instead of died on fourth down in its next possession, when on fourth and 2 on its 42-yard line, and with 7:07 remaining, Gisualdi ran up the gut to keep the drive alive, pushing the pile to the Darien 49.

"Gisualdi's a little different back than Graham Maybell," Trifone said. "Gisualdi's a little more north-south and Maybell's a little east-west, break a big one. Based on what they were giving us, they weren't going to give us the perimeter. ... Because they were giving us the off-tackle, we went more with Gisualdi."

Darien often went to its Marines formation, which is essentially double-wing look. St. Joe's, which was down six players to injury, couldn't get pressure at the line of scrimmage. Darien took the lead with 4:54 remaining in the fourth quarter on a sweep to the left by Gisualdi from three yards out.

St. Joseph got its biggest scare of the game not from any offense by Darien, but when multi-faceted senior quarterback Joe Della Vecchia went down after he was horse-collared by James Shanley near the Darien sideline. Della Vecchia was replaced by Joe Burns, which also effectively took the Cadets' No. 2 option at receiver away by forcing him behind center.

"I got pulled down and back, one leg went one way and the other went the other," Della Vecchia said. "It's from me knee to my hip. ... "I just gutted it out. I didn't want to let my team down, so I had to fight through it."

But Della Vecchia (8 for 18, 61 yards; 51 yards rushing) toughed it out, came back in after taking one possession off and tried to lead his team to a comeback -- to no avail. Hampered by his injury, Della Vecchia relied on his arm instead of his legs and threw three consecutive incompletions on the team's final drive of the game before the Cadets punted it away in hopes of getting it back with enough time on the clock. They never would. Gisualdi was given the ball eight straight times to bleed out the clock.

"Defending [Della Vecchia] might be the hardest thing I do this year," Trifone said. "How do you defend him? I said to his dad (Cadets coach Joe Della Vecchia) he's the best quarterback in the state. He runs, he scrambles, he throws. He's a tough kid -- you saw him come back after that little bang on the sideline."

Despite a 3-0 disadvantage in turnovers, Darien managed to pull out a win thanks to winning the time-of-possession battle and ushering the ball into Gisualdi's hands 21 times in the second half.

"It's unbelievable we still won," Trifone said. "If you take away those three turnovers, or two of them, even, it's a different game."