A jubilant Darien football team celebrated amid the raindrops at Tetreau-Davis Field on Friday night after winning a game that didn't seem in reach at halftime.
In a stunning turnaround, the Blue Wave erupted for 26 unanswered points in the second half to shock Fairfield Warde, 29-19, after trailing 19-3 at halftime.
"lWarde] is very senior laden, they're very good, and this was a grow-up game," said Darien coach Rob Trifone, whose team returned only three starters from last season's FCIAC championship club
The Blue Wave took advantage of Warde mistakes in the second half, cashing in a fumble recovery, a short punt, and a play in which Warde punter Dave Wolff was ruled down at the Mustangs' 28-yard line before getting off the kick.
Peter Gesualdi, who started the second-half comeback with a 14-yard touchdown reception midway through the third quarter, capped the victory with a 64-yard catch and run with 5:31 remaining.
"The last game last week again Ludlowe [a 38-13 victory], that was a warmup game," Gesualdi said. "To come here against Warde, a great team, this really showed our character and who we were as young people."
Looking for a signature victory, the Mustangs dominated the first half, putting together three methodical drives of 70, 53, and 76 yards that all resulted in touchdowns. Warde outgained Darien 206-37 in the first half.
Mustangs quarterback Chris Foley started strong, completing 5 of 6 passes for 104 yards in the first quarter, including a 20-yard touchdownstrike to Kevin Krug with 4:11 left in the first quarter.
Joe Marx then plowed in from six yards on 4th-and-1 before capping a 13-play drive with an 8-yard touchdown burst straight up the middle.
But the Mustangs unraveled in the second half. Tailback Devon Lofton left with a cramp on the first play of the second half and Warde's offense wasn't the same without him.
To make matters worse, Krug suffered a knee inury after his TD catch, was on crutches and is expected to miss at least four weeks, said Warde coach Duncan Della Volpe, who sensed the momentum started to swing when the Mustangs were called for a penalty on the first snap of the second half.
"Poor execution on special teams just destroyed us," Della Volpe said.
After the first of two short punts, the Mustangs stopped the Blue Wave on fourth down at the Warde 21, but Darien was back in business when it recovered a fumble at the Mustangs' 43.
Baldwin hit Matthew Forelli for a 16-yard completion, then found Gesualdi for the touchdown four plays later.
After a 14-yard punt gave the Blue Wave possession at Warde's 31, Christian Bognar capped a four-play drive with a 14-yard touchdown surge up the middle, pulling Darien within 19-16 with 2:30 left in the third quarter.
"We were just completely out of sync in the third quarter," Della Volpe said.
Things continued to go from bad to worse for the Mustangs as the officials ruled Wolff's knee was down before he got off the punt on Warde's next possession.
Completions of 13 yards Ryan Gregory and 12 yards to Gesualdi set up Bognar's 1-yard TD run that put the Blue Wave ahead 22-19 seven seconds into the fourth quarter.
"Our 'O' line really stepped up," Gesualdi said. "I don't recall a missed block in the second half, and the holes were huge. Henry did a great job at quarterback. They were really shutting off our perimeter run game, so we just had to run it down their throats, and that's what we did."
The Mustangs managed only one first down in the second half, and Della Vecchia felt his defense just got worn down.
"The defense is tired because we are out here so long," said Della Vecchia, whose team now prepares for next week's game against powerhouse New Canaan.
The Mustangs had two possessions before Gesualdi's 64-yard TD sealed an unlikely but satisfying win for the Blue Wave.
Considering the way Darien was outplayed in the first half, one might think that Trifone peeled the paint off the wall in the locker room at halftime. Not the case, he said.
"Instead, I said to my staff, 'We got a young group, let's build them up, let's make our adjustments, let's play a good second half.' It was a very calm halftime, some minor adjustments, and let me tell you, they came out and played one hell of a second half."