STAMFORD — While the pride of two towns consistently weighs on the backs of Darien and New Canaan in their annual Thanksgiving meeting, this year there’s an added wrinkle to the contest.

For one team, it could mean the end of the road in 2017.

When the Rams and Blue Wave meet in the Turkey Bowl Thursday morning at 10:30 at Boyle Stadium in Stamford, it will be with New Canaan’s season on the line.

“We’ve yet to play our best game and we’re going to need to play it to beat this team,” Rams coach Lou Marinelli said. “Our backs are against the wall, I think if we can get into the tournament we can hold our own for sure. We have no one to blame but ourselves, we put ourselves in this position.”

New Canaan (7-2) must win Thursday to qualify for the Class L playoffs, where it has won the last three titles. To do so, the Rams must avoid shooting themselves in the foot like they did in their two losses against St. Joseph and Greenwich — where they committed over 30 combined penalties.

“If we were a little bit better coached by me, and were able to limit our mistakes, we’d be in a better spot right now,” Marinelli said. “But, we’re not.”

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WHERE/WHEN: Boyle Stadium, Stamford High School, Thursday, 10:30 a.m.

PLAYERS TO WATCH, DARIEN: Drew Evanchick and Sean O’Malley. Slowing down New Canaan starts with keeping quarterback Drew Pyne in the pocket and making him uncomfortable. If Pyne can use his legs, he becomes lethal. It will be up to the two senior defensive ends to limit Pyne’s mobility. O’Malley will have to do so in just his second game of the season after missing the first eight with injury.

PLAYERS TO WATCH, NEW CANAAN: WR Justin Greco and RB Owen Shin. There’s little doubt Darien will look to shut down Rams’ leading receiver Quintin O’Connell (651 yards, 13 touchdowns), so it may be up to the secondary options to carry the load for the New Canaan offense. Greco (334 yards, four touchdowns) is a threat who will likely face a lot of single coverage on Thursday, while Shin, a senior tailback (764 yards, three touchdowns, eight yards per carry) will look to continue his breakout year.

QUOTABLE, DARIEN: “It’s a hornet’s nest no matter how you look at it…in my mind, (New Canaan) is undefeated. I know their record doesn’t reflect that, but they’re a very dangerous team and now they have their backs against the wall and they’re even more dangerous. It’s like a caged bear, so they’re going to be a tough team to beat; even if I bring back 10 or 15 alumni.” — Darien coach Rob Trifone

QUOTABLE, NEW CANAAN: “The one thing I can say about our guys is that they don’t quit. They keep fighting, they give all they have, so I’m proud of them for that — but we have to not put ourselves in a hole.” — New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli

STORYLINE: Not that this rivalry needs it, but both teams have something extra to fight for on Thanksgiving. New Canaan needs a win to qualify for the Class L playoffs, where it has won the last three titles. Darien has already clinched in LL — where it’s won the last two championships — but needs to win to maintain the No. 1 seed and guarantee a home game.


Not only will New Canaan have to avoid self-inflicted wounds, it will have to solve a Darien (9-0) defense that’s allowing a minuscule 3.8 points per game.

“Right now, I think the offense that we’re going to face on Thursday is the most challenging offense all year long,” Darien coach Rob Trifone said of the Rams, who average 40 points a game. “…they have a lot of weapons, they throw a lot of stuff at you and they make it hard.”

One of those weapons for the Rams is dual-threat quarterback Drew Pyne, who has thrown for 1,825 yards and 22 touchdowns while adding 212 yards and five scores on the ground.

Despite being a sophomore, Pyne has plenty of experience in the big moment, including last year’s Turkey Bowl (a 37-34 overtime loss) and the Class L title game (a 20-17 win over Notre Dame-West Haven).

“He’s not a typical sophomore, and thank God for him,” Marinelli said. “His two best games were probably St. Joe’s and Greenwich. If it wasn’t for him at Greenwich, I don’t know where we’d be, it could have gotten really ugly. But he hung in there and he’s really developed as a quarterback in the severe, adverse conditions.

“I think he’s going to be ready, and I think the fact that he’s played in big games before certainly helps.”

While knocking out their biggest rival from postseason contention and continuing their 34-game win streak should be plenty of incentive for the Wave, there is one more bit of added motivation.

If Darien can win and keep the No. 1 seed in Class LL, it’ll get to play a state playoff game at home for the first time — it’s the first year Darien has the luxury of lights.

“It’s very important,” Trifone said. “Here we fought for lights for two decades. We’ve been the No. 1 and 2 seeds on many occasions and had to play at Boyle and McMahon, and now we have a chance to play at our home field under brand new lights, and its quite a bit of incentive.” @reportedbytheAP