There was a moment — roughly halfway through the second quarter of Friday night’s season-opening game against Darien — when the Ridgefield High football team looked as though it might give the three-time defending state champions a scare.
After a field goal on its opening drive and a touchdown pass from newly-named quarterback Cooper Hancock to TJ Cornacchia just four seconds into the second quarter, Darien had a 10-0 lead and the ball.
But then Owen Gaydos intercepted a Hancock pass to give Ridgefield the ball at the Darien 27-yard line. A few plays later, quarterback Owen Matthews unloaded a pass intended for senior wide receiver Evan Wein. The toss went past Wein and right into the hands of perfectly positioned teammate Jackson Mitchell, who was perched at the goal line and took the ball into the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown.
Although the Tigers botched the extra point they had cut Darien’s lead to 10-6 with 7:04 left before halftime.
That, however, proved to be Ridgefield’s only offensive highlight.
The Blue Wave pitched a shutout the rest of the way en route to a 30-6 triumph at Darien High School.
For a Ridgefield team with numerous first-year starters, Darien was a difficult opening opponent. The Blue Wave have won the last three Class LL titles and lost just one game (to arch-rival New Canaan) during that stretch.
While Darien lost a number of players to graduation, it does return several standouts, including All-State linebacker Connor Fay. The Blue Wave also have a knack for winning: In Rob Trifone’s 12 years as head coach, Darien has won 100 games and lost only 22.
Despite the outcome, Ridgefield exhibited some encouraging signs. Gaydos, a sophomore defensive back, had an impressive outing, and senior defensive end Nick Hall blocked two passes. Mitchell, the 6’2″, 215-pound UConn commit, showed why he might be the state’s best player, sacking Hancock twice and applying constant pressure as a defensive end in addition to scoring the Tigers’ touchdown.
But Ridgefield also displayed some critical weaknesses, particularly on offense. Darien’s defensive line so overpowered Ridgefield that the Tigers relied mostly on a passing game that lacked consistency. In his first varsity start, Matthews was left vulnerable, making for awkward play execution. He also was sacked three times.
Ridgefield’s special teams also struggled. A bad snap derailed the extra-point kick after Mitchell’s touchdown, and a penalty for too many men on the field during a Darien punt gave the Blue Wave a first down that led to their first touchdown.
“We just failed to execute,” said junior wide receiver Jackson Kuwata. “But it was mostly just our own mistakes. We can come back and fix those. We know what we can do.”
As the Tigers left the field, junior running back Max Bornstein noticed quarterback Matthews walking, a dejected expression on his face. “You’re OK man,” said Bornstein. “It’s all good. It’s just the first game of the season. We’ll get the next one.”
Notes: Hancock threw two touchdown passes for Darien, which led 17-6 at halftime. The Blue Wave also scored on a pair of short runs.