Darien stuffed on Thanksgiving
Staring down the possible end of its season, and against the backdrop of an incident that marred the lead up to one of the state's biggest rivalries, the New Canaan High School football went out and painted its own kind of masterpiece Thanksgiving morning.
Kevin Macari scored on a 79-yard punt return, a 78-yard pass reception and even threw a touchdown pass to lead the Rams to a 42-14 rout of Darien in their annual Turkey Bowl game.
New Canaan (9-1) clinched the sixth seed and a berth in the CIAC Class L tournament. The Rams began their attempt to win a fifth straight title when they opened with -- and won -- a quarterfinal game Tuesday at Naugatuck, the NVL champion.
"There was a lot of pressure, definitely," said Macari, who has followed up his All-State performance of a year ago with an even better season. "It was win or hand in your pads."
Graham Maybell and Jake Weil scored on short-scoring plays for Darien (10-1), which suffered its first loss after winning the FCIAC championship last week. It opened the state playoff as the fifth seed with a game at Wethersfield, a game the Blue Wave won 31-7 Tuesday night.
The 81st edition of this rivalry already was replete with story lines before taking a controversial turn just over 24 hours before kickoff, when five members, including two starters, of the Darien team were accused of vandalizing the New Canaan campus, which consisted of spray-painting almost every entrance to the school, and parts of the football stadium. The graffiti had expletives and obscene gestures.
It was severe enough that Darien coach Rob Trifone on Wednesday morning threatened his players with forfeiting the game if the perpetrators were not identified, which happened shortly thereafter.
The Darien administration was praised with the swiftness in which it handled the situation and the severity of the punishment meted out, which included school suspensions and expulsion from the team for the remainder of the season.
The Blue Wave lost two other starters to injury during the game, including star lineman Charlie Kunze, who sustained damage to his left ankle and was feared to be lost for the year.
That wasn't the case, though; Kunze started, and played well, in Tuesday night's Class L quarterfinal at Wethersfield High.
"The players that missed today's game because of disciplinary reasons had very little impact compared to the injuries we had," Trifone said.
Darien will be hobbled for the remainder of the year, Trifone added.
Before the start of the game, New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli was called out to the middle of the field and an apology was read on behalf of the Darien captains and Trifone over the public address system.
Once the opening kickoff came moments later, the focus returned to the action on the field. The Rams, a two-point conversion away from an unbeaten record, needed a win to qualify for the state tournament. Darien, which won the FCIAC title six days earlier, was playing to secure home-field advantage.
New Canaan, which came in averaging nearly 42 points, believed that it had the best team in the conference and was using the game as a showcase to prove it.
"In our opinion this was our FCIAC championship," Macari said. "We didn't get the chance to play Trumbull, didn't get the chance to play Staples."
Macari opened the scoring by displaying his versatility with a 28-yard pass to Connor Kilbane on a perfectly executed fake reverse.
The Rams soon had a 21-0 first-half lead when Kilbane scored again, the first of three touchdown passes by quarterback Matt Milano.
The second of them, on the third play of the second half, was a long bomb to Macari, who was hit in stride as he got behind the defense.
"He's a great player," Marinelli said. "You have to get him the ball and he's going to do great things."
That was evident later in the third quarter, when Macari fielded a punt, streaked up the middle and then cut outside and raced down the left sideline for a 35-7 lead.
"You can't win without players," Trifone said. "If we had gone in at full strength and laid this egg it would have been one thing."
Marinelli said while he felt his team had made a statement and was pleased that its season was extended, he felt badly about the circumstances.
"I still think we have the best team," Marinelli said. "I'm glad we are in the state tournament but I'm sorry everything else had to happen because it tarnishes this a little. I feel bad for Rob. I wish they were at full strength."