Greenwich football falls to Darien, 31-22, for Class LL championship

Three years ago in their first season at Greenwich High, the current Cardinal senior football players won just two of 10 games with the school’s freshman team.

Tysen Comizio pounds ahead while a Darien defender attempts to break him down. — Dave Stewart/HAN Network photo

Today, they were playing for a state championship. And while the storybook ending didn’t materialize as the Darien Blue Wave won and ended the Cardinals’ bid for an undefeated season, Greenwich head coach John Marinelli hopes the seniors realize they’re leaving the program as winners.

“The message to them is hard work pays off,” Marinelli said. “Although we lost the game, the direction of the program and how we develop young men on and off the field, in the classroom, and in the community — we’ve come a long way. Unfortunately, this probably hurts for them, but they should hold their heads up high because the way they represented this town and this program — I can’t say enough about them.

“It’s more than just a game.”

The CIAC Class LL final was a true classic as the Blue Wave rolled out to leads of 14-0 in the first quarter and 21-7 at halftime, before holding off Greenwich in the second half for a 31-22 win at a snow-covered Boyle Stadium. The game was even closer than the final score, as Darien led by two points before scoring a late touchdown.

The state championship was the third straight for third-seeded Darien (12-1), while top-seeded Greenwich (12-1) was denied its first state title since winning back-t0-back in 2006 and 2007.

“I wish I could’ve done more in a game like this, but we just couldn’t overcome our early miscues and we couldn’t put the ball in the end zone when we had to,” Marinelli said. “Give them a lot of credit, they kept on battling and gives our guys credit too. We played our hearts out today and we came up short.”

Greenwich’s junior quarterback Gavin Muir amassed 280 yards in the winter weather, completing 15-of-34 passes and tossing touchdowns to seniors Henry Saleeby and Jael Negron.

Negron had 80 receiving yards on two catches, including an acrobatic 46-yard touchdown when he was blanketed by a defender and somehow came up with the long pass from Muir.

Saleeby had four catches for 47 yards; Elias Gianopoulos had one catch for 52 yards; and Jack Warren had one catch for 48 yards.

Zach Moore had a big day kicking, going 3-for-3 on field goals of 25, 36 and 38 yards and collecting 10 kicking points overall.

Defensively, the Cards settled down and allowed just 17 points over the final three quarters and 10 in the second half, with seven of those coming on the late touchdown by Darien.

Senior DE Tyler Blizzard was big with five unassisted tackles and two sacks; junior DE Mozi Bici also had five unassisted tackles and one sack; and senior DL Nick McIntosh had a fumble recovery.

For Darien, quarterback Jack Joyce had a huge day running the ball, racking up 113 yards on 20 carries, including a 41-yard touchdown rush in the first quarter. He also completed 11-of-24 passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns.

Mitch Pryor rushed 18 times for 69 yards and a TD; Tyler Herget had four catches for 66 yards and a TD, and T.J. Cornacchia had two catches for 31 yards and a TD.

Darien got on the board just 1:57 into the game, after getting the ball from Greenwich just 10 yards from the end zone. The Cards had gone three-and-out on the first possession, and a low snap on the ensuing punt forced Moore to one knee and he was ruled down.

Blizzard knocked the Wave back with a sack of Joyce, but the QB regrouped and hit Herget for a 19-yard score for a 7-0 lead.

The Wave added another touchdown on its next possession, as Joyce broke free and raced 41 yards to paydirt, making it a 14-0 game with 5:42 remaining in the first quarter.

This time, Greenwich responded. A long pass from Muir to Gianopoulos put the Cardinals at the Darien 15-yard line and from there, Muir connected with Saleeby for a 15-yard TD strike, cutting the deficit in half at 14-7.

After the teams traded punts, Darien went back up by two scores at 21-7 when Joyce threw a four-yard TD pass to Cornacchia early in the second quarter.

Muir and Negron teamed up for a 41-yard scoring strike 3:27 before halftime, but the run failed on the conversion attempt, leaving the score at 21-13 going to halftime.

Darien had a chance to tack on more points late in the first half after another low snap on a punt gave the Wave the ball at the Greenwich one-yard line with one second on the clock. But a sack ended the threat and the half.

“We were pretty positive at halftime,” Marinelli said. “We knew that we put ourselves on a hole and it was our miscues — we had two turnovers and two bad snaps in the first half — but halftime was pretty positive and upbeat. We just couldn’t score touchdowns when we got inside the red zone.”

Moore accounted for the only points of the third quarter when he kicked a 25-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 21-16.

A 37-yard field goal Darien’s Austin Hagander made it 24-19, but Moore then hit field goals from 36 and 38 yards to close the gap to 24-22 with 7:04 remaining.

Greenwich had two more possessions with a chance to take the lead, but the first drive ended in Darien territory and the second was stymied by Darien’s defense, with the Wave taking over at the Cards’ 25-yard line with 1:25 remaining.

Four plays later, Pryor scored on a three-yard run for the exclamation point on the Wave’s win.

“They executed early and maybe that was the experience of them coming out and the inexperience of us in the first half,” Marinelli said. “We settled down and did a nice job, we just lost a little bit of time. We kept on fighting, kept on fighting and we were right in it until the very end. It’s just frustrating.”

As for the departing seniors, Marinelli said they’ve left their mark on Greenwich Cardinals football.

“The seniors did such a great job,” Marinelli said. “They’re the smallest class — 20 of them for us is small — and they were the glue all year long. This is a great group of kids. I’m really going to miss them.”

CIAC Class LL Football Championship – Darien 31, Greenwich 22

Darien 14-7-0-10 31

Greenwich 7-6-3-6 22

First Quarter

D – Tyler Herget, 15-yard pass from Jack Joyce (Austin Hagander PAT), 10:03

D – Joyce, 41-yard run (Hagander PAT), 5:42

G – Henry Saleeby, 15-yard pass from Gavin Muir (Zach Moore PAT), 4:41

Second Quarter

D – T.J. Cornacchia, 23-yard pass from Muir (Hagander PAT), 10:56

G – Jael Negron, 41-yard pass from Muir (run failed), 3:27

Third Quarter

G – Moore, 25-yard field goal, 5:25

Fourth Quarter

D – Hagander, 37-yard field goal, 11:49

G – Moore, 36-yard field goal, 8:48

G – Moore, 38-yard field goal, 7:04

D – Mitch Pryor, 3-yard run (Hagander PAT), 0:18

Greenwich sophomore Jack Warren gains some yards after a catch during the CIAC Class LL final on Saturday at Boyle Stadium in Stamford. — Dave Stewart photo

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