The time for talking is over. The time for history is now.
One win away from capping a perfect season, No. 1 Darien will battle third-seeded rival New Canaan in the Class M boys lacrosse championship at 4 p.m. at Brien McMahon High School. Both teams have outscored their respective state tournament opponents by a combined 48 goals en route to the highly-anticipated third meeting between the schools.
In each of the previous contests, the Blue Wave escaped with a dramatic victory in overtime, a fact that brings confidence, not worry, for head coach Jeff Brameier.
"People say it's hard to beat a team three times. And I think that's true when you've handled them easily," Brameier said. "But knowing we played two very close games, we know we were fortunate to win the first face-off in overtime. We're certainly not going to walk in overconfident."
With two weeks to simmer over a 12-11 defeat in the FCIAC tournament semifinals, the Rams (17-4) worked to refocus and fix the sloppy play that dogged them in a scoreless fourth quarter. Given the great familiarity between the teams, New Canaan devoted significant practice time to perfecting new offensive and defensive schemes designed with Darien (22-0) in mind.
"We're going with a new gameplan for sure," Buzzeo said. "We've been working on it for two weeks, and they're going to see different schemes, different sets and things they've never seen before."
Should the Rams win, it would be the third major sport in which New Canaan has prevailed over its primary rival in the postseason this 2013-14 school year. Back in December, the Rams blew out Darien 44-12 in the Class L football championship to avenge a loss in the regular season finale. Three months later, following an early-season defeat in Darien, the New Canaan boys hockey team returned the favor to the Blue Wave with a 5-2 FCIAC title game win.
These losses are a part of the multi-faceted fuel driving Darien to an undefeated season, which was originally solely dedicated to atoning for a pedestrian 2013 campaign. Now, a victory over New Canaan would not only mean a second championship, after the Wave took the FCIAC crown two weeks ago, but it would make the 2014 Blue Wave only the second team in Darien history to have gone unbeaten.
Furthermore, a championship win would deliver the 10th state title all-time for the boys lacrosse program.
When asked if the pressure could mount too high Saturday, Brameier pointed to the rugged schedule his team ran through as proof they'll be ready for their season's pinnacle.
"We've held up under fire and most people know that if they've looked at our body of work," said Brameier, whose team posted impressive out-of-state wins over New York Class B champion Yorktown and traditional Long Island powers St. Anthony's and Manhassett among others. "There'll be a lot of build-up ¦ but after 44 practices, 22 games, all the preseason games and all the work they've put in in the off-season, it's not about what we've done or how we walk on the field. It's about the 48 minutes."
Arguably the biggest reason behind each Blue Wave win over the Rams was the victory claimed in the faceoff circle by specialist Andrew Pugliese to open the overtimes. In their regular season meeting, New Canaan faceoff man Teddy Dumbauld jumped illegally, handing possession to Darien. Then, after winning most faceoffs in the second game, Dumbauld, one of the best at his position in the state, lost the last battle to Pugliese clean.
And it is the faceoff circle where Buzzeo believes the 2014 championship could very well be won or lost.
"I think the game is going to be won at the Faceoff X, defensive midfield play and on second-line midfield," Buzzeo said. "The first groups are very well balanced and talented. Their attack is as good as ours. Their defense is as good as ours. Both goalies are equal. Midfielders, too. it's going to be the second group and how well are they going to perform." Read Full Article
Peter Lindley, senior attack
Lindley's ability to create his own scoring is critical and certainly the biggest reason he led the Blue Wave in goals this season. The senior tallied a hat trick in each previous meeting with the Rams and helped spur Darien's comeback in the FCIAC semifinals.
Will Hammernick, junior midfielder
Alongside fellow junior Nick Tuzinkiewicz, Hammernick has come through time and time again for Darien on the defensive end, particularly in big games. If there's a Blue Wave fast break racing out in the second half, you can bet of the two is responsible for starting it.
Andrew Pugliese, junior faceoff specialist
Darien's hopes for an undefeated season begin right here with Pugliese. He faces no easy task battling against New Canaan's Teddy Dumbauld, but Pugliese did best him to start both overtimes this year and set up Wave wins.
Harry Stanton, senior attack
The lightning-quick Stanton is as steady as they come, averaging better than three goals per game in his last seven contests. While New Canaan won't be able a title without him, there's no doubt the senior captain will come up big in the final game of his high school career.
Robby Paul, senior midfielder
A key cog of the Rams' second-line midfield, Paul registered only one assist in each of his team's previous meetings with Darien. However, coach Chip Buzzeo is relying on Paul's unit to be the winning edge Saturday, and the senior midfielder can pull the trigger if needed.
Seth Neeleman, senior defenseman
By maintaining constant communication and extended pressure, Neeleman has spearheaded a Rams defense that's allowed only four goals this state tournament. The long-stick will be responsible for helping set an early tone against Darien's potent attack.
X marks the spot
In today's lacrosse, there is simply no way of claiming victory without winning a fair share of faceoffs. Juniors Andrew Pugliese and Teddy Dumbauld will lock horns at every starting whistle Saturday, after the latter took the majority of their clashes for New Canaan in the FCIAC tournament. Now fully recovered from an early-season injury, Dumbauld has established himself as one of the best in the state, but Pugliese should only need to win half of the faceoffs today to help push the Wave into the record books.
Turnovers in the midfield
Once possession is initially won in the cricle, the creation of extra scoring opportunities will be paramount. Darien was able to climb back into the FCIAC semifinals in this area, taking advantage of some sloppy fourth-quarter clears with excellent checks. But in whatever manner the Blue Wave or the Rams can garner additional chances, they ought to. Undeserved opportunities will be difficult to come by and must be capitalized on.
Keeping the cape off
Should this afternoon live up to the hype and remain a close contest late, the temptation for each player to win the title by himself will grow as time winds down. However, trying to win this championship single-handedly will betray either team's strengths. Both Darien and New Canaan were carried back to Brien McMahon High by their excellent offensive balance, not on the back of single superstar. Whoever trusts more in their passing, their system and their teammates will have an edge when everything is on the line.
-- ANDREW CALLAHAN