By Dave Stewart
DARIEN, Conn. - Years from now, when they look back on their memories on and off the gridiron, the date September 20 will surely stand out for the members of the 2008 Darien High School football team. Regardless of what happens for them the remainder of the season, Saturday’s 31-25 upset victory over the Greenwich Cardinals — yes, those Greenwich Cardinals — will own a special place in their memories.
It’s been a long time since any Blue Wave football player could claim success against the Cardinals. Greenwich has dominated the series for the past nine years, and has been the toast of the FCIAC as well, winning the last two league championships. The Cardinals were ranked fourth on last week’s MaxPreps Connecticut rankings and finished second in the state behind Ansonia last year.
But Saturday? It was Darien’s day to steal the spotlight.
“I can’t explain this feeling,” said senior running back Nikki Dysenchuk, who scored two rushing TDs. “It’s been so long since we’ve beaten them. Our senior class has been looking forward to this year since seventh and eighth grade. On each side of the ball, we’ve got 10 or 11 starters who see every single play on the field. Ever since we were younger, we’ve stuck together as a class. We have 21 seniors on the team this year and we’re so close.
“We know we’ve been good, we know we can do it and we can’t wait until the next game.”
“Any time you beat Greenwich, I don’t care what year it is, it’s an accomplishment,” head coach Rob Trifone said. “They’re one of the best teams in the state year-in and year-out. (Greenwich coach) Richie Albonizio and his staff are awesome, and they just outnumber you.”
The Blue Wave built a 24-7 lead during a dominating first half which saw them score on four of their first five possessions.
Junior kicker John Gardner opened the scoring with a 27-yard field goal early in the first quarter, but Greenwich responded with a scoring drive of its own. Junior Mike Lefflbine did the honors with a one year quarterback keeper and sophomore Oliver Ostrowski’s extra point put the Cards up 7-3.
Darien came back with a nice drive and scored when senior QB Matt Wheelock rushed 12 yards for the score to make it 9-7 heading into the second quarter.
In the second, Dysenchuk scored on a four-yard run and caught a conversion pass from senior Brian Kosnik for a 17-7 Wave lead.
Meanwhile, the defense, led by senior linemen Rocco Colandro, Mike Gasparino and Teddy Panourglas, and senior linebackers James Patton, Michael Gencarelli and Dysenchuk, helped make life miserable for Lefflbine and the Greenwich offense.
After another stop by the defense, Darien marched down the field and scored again on a two-yard run by Dysenchuk just before halftime. When Gardner kicked the PAT, the Blue Wave had an improbable 24-7 advantage.
After a scoreless third quarter, Greenwich’s edge on manpower began to take its toll, as the Darien sideline was a MASH unit of cramps and injuries.
“You saw it in the second half where we’re running out of gas and we’re cramping,” Trifone said. “I’ve got six guys going both ways and they’ve got the red and white army out there. There’s nothing you can do about that.”
Lefflbine threw TD passes of 23 and 25 yards to Matt Grant, drawing the Cardinals to within five points at 24-19 with 5:59 remaining.
That’s when Darien regrouped and accomplished perhaps its most remarkable feat in the game.
Needing to run some time off the clock, the Blue Wave went on a 2:37 drive of 81 yards. Wheelock and Kosnik hooked up for a 29-yard completion to midfield on second-and-12 at the beginning of the drive, and the same players connected on the scoring play.
Facing a third-and-10 from the Greenwich 35-yard line, Wheelock went over the top and up the middle to Kosnik, who made a great grab while covered by Rob Catalano, came down with the ball and fell into the end zone with 3:22 to play. Kosnik injured his elbow on the play and wore a sling the rest of the day.
“We talked about the fact that we obviously had to get a few first downs and let the clock run,” Trifone said. “But at the same time, we were going to have to throw the ball and we were going to have to pick the spot to throw the ball. That third down, when we threw that belly pass post, I walked out of the huddle thing ‘Was that the right call?’
“We got one-on-one coverage on Kosnik and Matt threw as good a ball as you’ll see thrown in high school.”
Greenwich had one final gasp and scored with 1:47 remaining as Lefflbine threw a 10-yard TD pass to Erik Camacho to make it 31-25.
The onside kick was grabbed by Gencarelli and the Blue Wave celebration was on.
“The coaches did the most work they’ve ever done in their lives for this game,” Dysenchuk said. “It was crazy how much work they put in, how much film we watched and the schemes that they put in. We really owe it to them. Coach Trifone and Coach (A.J.) Albano really put it together for us this time.”
And when did Dysenchuk and his Blue Wave teammates feel they could finally breathe easy?
“Never,” Dysenchuk said. “Not until the last whistle. I was always pretty nervous. Not until the fat lady sings.”
Dave Stewart, the Sports Editor of the New Canaan (Conn.) Advertiser, is a MaxPreps.com writer and photographer. He may be reached at 203-966-9541 or at firstname.lastname@example.org