When it was generally accepted that last season’s FCIAC Championship would probably be the last in conference history, most agreed that the heart-stopping contest between New Canaan and Darien was a fitting end to a storied history of title games.
Fortunately for area high school football players, coaches and fans, the Blue Wave’s 28-21 win over the Rams last Thanksgiving would not be the final chapter—the FCIAC was able to work things out to salvage the conference championship game, the 50th in league history. And wouldn’t you know what two teams would end up facing each other in the Turkey Bowl in 2015?
Yep…you guessed it.
The stage is set once again as the league’s most bitter rivals will face off Thanksgiving morning at historic Boyle Stadium in Stamford. The major difference this season is that this will be the only time New Canaan and Darien will play one another, as the Wave moved up to Class LL while the Rams remained in Class L. Without the possibility of a rematch in the state playoffs, the stakes—and the intensity—will be even higher on Thursday. And upon analyzing both teams, the game should be another classic.
Both the Rams and the Blue Wave are undefeated at 8-0. Both teams overwhelmed their opponents throughout the season with a combination of a deep, dangerous offense and an equally adept defense. Both teams were led by record-setting stars and legendary coaches who continue to defy age and time, consistently reloading their programs which are undisputedly the best in the conference, if not the state.
New Canaan’s Offense vs. Darien’s Defense
Head coach Lou Marinelli’s Rams entered the season facing a lot of question marks following the departure of former Offensive Coordinator Johnny Marinelli, who was hired as the head coach of the Greenwich Cardinals. Under new OC Dante Correnty, the Rams’ spread offense racked up 388 points this season, averaging an eye-popping 48.5 points per game. A big reason for New Canaan’s success is the play of senior quarterback Michael Collins. The Penn-bound signal caller has had a dream season, completing 117 of 188 passes for 2,395 yards and a school-record 46 touchdowns, just 5 shy of the state mark. The 6’5”, 210-lb. Collins, who also tied a state record by throwing nine touchdowns in a single game against Trumbull, has evolved into a legitimate Division 1-caliber QB who many believe is the greatest to ever play the position in the storied history of the New Canaan program. Collins himself is always the first to say that his success wouldn’t be possible without his offensive line, and New Canaan boasts one of the biggest and best units around. Led by 6’7”, 305-lb. senior Lucas Niang, 5’10”, 280-lb. senior co-captain Gardner Read and 6’8”, 265-lb. senior Will Conley along with senior Jake O’Neill (6’3″, 270) and junior Teddy Hood (6’2″, 250) the Rams have consistently given Collins plenty of time to pick opposing defenses apart. The Rams have a deep and talented receiving corps, best represented in the Trumbull game when eight different receivers hauled in touchdown passes. Senior Kyle Smith led New Canaan with 23 catches for 552 yards and 11 touchdowns, and at 6’3” and 222 lbs. is virtually indefensible in one-on-one coverage. Complementing Smith are seniors Peter Swindell (21-479, 10 TD’s), Andrew DeFranco (21-374, 8 TD’s), Andrew Jahns (8-217, 3 TD’s) and junior Ryan O’Connell (8-160, 3 TD’s). New Canaan didn’t run very often in 2015, but when they did, it was usually senior Matt Cognetta who did most of the heavy lifting. Cognetta rushed 49 times for 479 yards and four touchdowns, good for an average of close to 10 yards per carry. Cognetta also proved to be a valuable weapon out of the backfield, catching 22 passes for 382 yards and five touchdowns. Twin brother Mike Cognetta—a senior co-captain—also ran effectively this season, gaining 148 yards on 15 carries.
Darien gave up just 91 points this season, and pitched a shutout against a tough Staples team in their last game of the regular season.The Wave are led by senior co-captain, lineman Mark Evanchick, who broke current NFL star Dwight Freeney’s state record for career sacks. With 19.5 takedowns plus a team-high 60 tackles, Evanchick is very much like Zach Allen was for New Canaan last season…a game-changer and the best defensive player in the FCIAC. Fellow lineman Cord Fox deserves a fair share of attention with 38 tackles and three sacks as does junior Quinn Fay (34 tackles, 3 sacks). Junior Finlay Collins (37 tackles) and senior Mark Schmidt (30 tackles, 1 sack) lead a solid linebacking crew. Bobby and co-captain Christian Trifone provide Darien with a twin killing in the defensive secondary, as the siblings combined for 46 tackles and four interceptions.
- EDGE: NEW CANAAN
Darien’s Offense vs. New Canaan’s Defense
Senior co-captain Timmy Graham might just be the most underrated quarterback in the league. The 6’4”, 185-lb. Graham throws with flawless, deadly precision, having completed 133 of 183 passes for 2,069 yards and 26 touchdowns against just one interception. An extremely mobile QB who uses his feet as well as a deceptive shoulder fake as well as anyone in the state, Graham has flown under the radar while compiling an amazing QB rating of 147.1. Head coach Rob Trifone’s offensive line, led by 6-6, 305-lb. junior Andrew Stueber and 6’0″, 265-lb. senior Spencer Stovall, is massive and equally adept at run blocking and pass protection. Graham’s favorite target is senior wideout Colin Minicus, who grabbed 38 passes for 617 yards and 10 TD’s in 2015. The 5’11, 175-lb. Minicus makes up for a lack of size with plus speed and a knack for making acrobatic receptions. Lining up beside Minicus is Bussey Bomb Squad favorite, senior Hudson Hamill (28-426, 4 TD’s) and junior Spencer Jarecke (16-149, 2 TD’s). Senior running back Shelby Grant was a touchdown machine in 2015, hitting pay dirt 11 times this season. Grant is one of the toughest tackles to make in the league, rushing 78 times for 536 yards and—like the Rams’ Matt Cognetta—is an excellent receiver, compiling 21 catches for 355 yards and 5 TD’s. Christian Trifone was also a factor in the backfield, with 153 yards on 30 carries and eight touchdowns.
New Canaan’s defense recalls the Miami Dolphins undefeated 1972 squad, dubbed the “No-Name Defense”. After graduating the likes of Zach Allen, Alex LaPolice and Michael Kraus, and with senior co-captain Cass Knox and senior defensive back Jarrett Torromeo sidelined all season with injuries, Defensive Coordinator Chris Silvestri has done a masterful job of reconstructing. This season’s squad only gave up 105 points all year, most of which came in the second half of blowout games vacated by the starters. Defensive back Mike Cognetta is the squad’s leader, as the senior co-captain compiled 42 tackles and three interceptions on the season. Junior Ryan O’Connell (25 tackles, 1 sack) emerged as the Rams’ top ball hawk, picking off a team-high five passes—including a pick-six against Westhill— and recovering two fumbles. Fellow D-backs Tommy Root (21 tackle, 3 INT’s) and Andrew DeFranco (29 tackles, 3 INT’s) also help patrol the no-fly zone. Senior linemen Andrew Chalon (25 tackles, 3 sacks), Sam Larson (31 tackles, 2.5 sacks) and Matt Hall (16 tackles, 1.5 sacks) have consistently put pressure on opposing QB’s all season and linebackers David Strupp (32 tackles, 2 sacks), Thomas Williams (41 tackles) and James Freyre (32 tackles) cover ground and fly to the ball.
- EDGE: DARIEN
Hudson Hamill is one of the most dangerous kick returners in the league. Kyle Smith never met a kickoff or punt that he didn’t like. Darien’s Riley Stewart hit 39 of 43 extra points and New Canaan’s Peter Swindell hit 38 of 41. Swindell was also 4-for-4 kicking field goals, including a 45-yarder. He’s a state record holder for career field goals.
EDGE: NEW CANAAN
KEY MATCHUP: Lucas Niang vs. Mark Evanchick
If you can take your eyes off Collins when New Canaan has the ball, check this one out. Two of the best at their positions lining up head-to-head. Should be epic.
- EDGE: EVEN
- Last year the New Canaan faithful managed to get the flag. That said, it might have helped rally the Darien contingent. Look for the Bussey Bomb Squad to find new, inventive ways to get the Wavers rattled.
- EDGE: NEW CANAAN
- On paper, this matchup looks as close as it can get. If New Canaan’s line can give Collins time—and with Evanchick in the mix, that will not be a given—it could be a long day for the talented Darien secondary. New Canaan’s defense has to play a perfect, disciplined game. Graham will not make many mistakes and will take advantage of others’. Kicking could be what sways it, as it did in the Class L Championship a year ago when the Rams pulled off a 21-20 come-from-behind win of their own over Darien. Swindell is arguably the best kicker New Canaan has ever had and is having a great season. He could be a difference-maker. After a tough game against Greenwich, the Rams know what it’s like to be tested, whereas the Wave have sailed through the season without any adversity. Again, this should be a classic.
- New Canaan 31, Darien 28
Kickoff for the game is scheduled at 10:30am.
Here’s exactly how to get to the parking lot for the game. Coming down into Stamford by way of Route 106: After turning right at the stop sign after the Holmes School, onto Glenbrook Road, continue straight—don’t turn left—until after you cross the railroad tracks. You’re still on Glenbrook Road. Follow it up the hill until you come to the light, then turn right and make your first left (onto Wetzel) and go down the hill. You’ll see the parking lot ahead and to the left from the stop sign at the bottom.