Ericson: Mental toughness the key to success for blue collar Blue Wave
Published 8:12 pm, Thursday, December 4, 2014
On Nov. 15, 2013, the Darien football team trailed North Haven 13-3 in the second quarter in front of a raucous home crowd at Vanacore Field.
Already with one loss in the ledger, the Blue Wave's season was essentially at stake over the next 30 minutes. How they responded would define who they were as a team. Would they fight, or would they fold up their tents, go home and feel sorry for themselves?
The Blue Wave decided to fight. Darien overcame the Wing-T and the home field advantage in those final two quarters, rallying to beat North Haven while securing itself a spot in the Class L playoffs at the same time.
Since then, Darien has only lost once, in last season's Class L championship to New Canaan, but has also beaten the highly-ranked Rams twice in that span, winning two nail-biting Thanksgiving contests.
It is the mental toughness forged that chilly night at Vanacore that has carried the Wave back to the Class L playoffs, this time unbeaten, in hopes of claiming the title which eluded them last fall.
It brought them back that night in North Haven, held New Canaan on the goal line in 2013, rallied them over Hand and Middletown in the Class L playoffs last season, fueled them through a slugfest at Greenwich, brought them back from 17 down against St. Joe's this year and carried them from 21 down against New Canaan in last week's FCIAC Championship game.
"Once again, we have been behind before and they have been able to come back but who would ever think down 21 in that environment that teenagers would have the wherewithal to keep it together? But they did," Darien coach Rob Trifone said. "New Canaan is New Canaan and if you look at the last decade they are the best team in the state of Connecticut."
The comeback would be stirring enough, but that morning standout-defensive end George Reed had trouble going up the stairs at Boyle Stadium because of a knee injury, but insisted on going in to long snap on punts after seeing a high snap from his replacement.
Reed, who is the emotional heart and soul of the defense, could not go as an end, but was cleared by doctors to snap and nobody could have kept him off the field.
It was revealed after the game Reed is suffering from a torn ACL and he will not play defensive end in the state tournament, but you can bet he'll still be pulling that No. 5 jersey over his pads, getting on the field anyway he can.
When fellow All-State end Mark Evanchik went down with an ankle injury, it was Reed standing over him as he got his ankle wrapped on the bench, lending him words of encouragement.
Evanchik came back in, playing a bit before limping off again only to drag himself back out on the field with the game on the line.
The duo are everything you need to know about this group of players.
"They just kept playing, kept playing and kept playing," New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said. "I kind of admired how they played. They were down but never out. No matter who got hurt, the next guy stepped up."
Faced with one last injury when quarterback Timmy Graham limped off in overtime, the Blue Wave remained calm, knowing they had been in these spots before. Running a passing play out of the Wildcat set they had not thrown out of all season with Hudson Hamill taking the snap in stead of Graham, Darien completed a pass to a wide open Griffin Ross for the winning score.
It was as if the Blue Wave players knew they would win. They do not know anything else at this point, so, why wouldn't they?
Playing a string of teams in the middle of the schedule that did not really pose a threat, Trifone was not sure if the makeup of this year's squad would be the same as the group who ran through the end of the season last year.
"To be honest I questioned this group in the midseason as to whether they really had the ability to lock in," Trifone said. "What I have witnessed (since the week prior to this season's North Haven game) is good stuff. In the end this group has just been waiting for a challenge."
Darien is certainly not known as a tough-working class town, but you'd have a hard time differentiating these players from those on the teams with the bluest of collars if they switched uniforms.
The way this team plays, their actual blue collars are quite appropriate.
It is how they approach the game and it is what they hope carries them to a potential rematch with the Rams in this year's final so they can complete one last piece of business.
Maybe not business but rather one last time punching in at the mill.
First, perfectly enough, is a matchup with a team from the working-class Valley in Naugatuck that comes to Darien for the Class L Large semifinals.