RIDGEFIELD -- Putting on a defensive clinic for the better part of its Saturday afternoon matchup did not guarantee a win for unbeaten Darien. Only a final defensive stand would do that.
With Darien up by a goal and Ridgefield coming out of a timeout with 39 seconds remaining, goalie Phil Huffard and the rest of the Blue Wave defense dug in for what was sure to be a frenetic finish.
Ridgefield's Simon Mathias advanced the ball from the outside and appeared to be heading for the area behind the Darien cage, but he quickly cut back in front to unleash a point blank shot that was stopped by Huffard with 7.7 seconds to go.
"You know that if they get it that they're going to need a shot, and you're going to have to be focused the whole possession because they could take it at any moment," Huffard said. "So I was just trying to coordinate with the defense and give them the shot that we wanted them most to take."
A scramble in front of the net followed, but possession was awarded to the Blue Wave, who launched the ball deep into Ridgefield territory to run out the clock and secure a 5-4 FCIAC victory.
"Point-blank shot on the doorstep. That's what we want," Ridgefield coach Roy Colsey said. "They're not all going to go in. My guys made a lot of great plays today and we know that, and that's a great goalie. He pops well. He's got great hands, and the kid made a lot of great saves."
Prior to the game-saving stop, Huffard also denied a strong shot from the stick of Ryan Dunn.
"It's a battle of great fortitude, great goaltending, great defense," Darien coach Jeff Brameier said. "I think the offenses were a little stymied and frustrated, and it's just a testament to both sides playing great defense all year."
Huffard was far from a one-man show, however, as defensemen Mark Evanchick, Sam Mejes, Bradley McCarthy and Kyle Gifford made it very difficult for Ridgefield to find an offensive rhythm.
Evanchick played a tough game against Mathias, who was held to two assists.
"All year, these guys have really stood up to the task," Huffard said. "Every top attacker that a team throws at us, we just put Mark on him and he gets shut down."
Darien, which did not trail at any point, needed just over a minute to claim its first lead as Jack Kniffin centered a pass to John Reed, who buried his shot for the early advantage.
On what looked like a replay of the first goal, the two Blue Wave attackers synced up again as Kniffin again assisted Reed for another short-range goal.
Ridgefield answered back less than two minutes later, around the midway point of the first quarter, when Mathias unleashed a long-range shot to cut Darien's lead to 2-1, a score that would remain intact until just 5:10 remained in the third. Read Full Article
The Tigers drew even when Dylan Maher scored his first of two markers after scooping up a groundball and immediately firing a long shot into the cage.
Darien's Peter Lindley put his team back on top with 2:49 to go in the third period by whipping a mid-range shot into the cage, but Ridgefield again knotted the score at 3-3 when Mathias made a centering pass to Ryan Dunn for the equalizer.
The lead lasted just 11 seconds, as William Hamernick got the ball in deep to Kniffin, who faked a high shot before going low for the 4-3 Darien lead.
Less than two minutes into the final stanza, Colin Minicus connected with Lindley on a difficult centering pass and Lindley took care of the rest, faking two or three shots on the doorstep before putting the ball in the net.
Maher gave the Tigers (12-3, 9-2 FCIAC) a chance when he scored from long distance with 5:27 to play, cutting the Blue Wave lead to 5-4 and setting up the wild finish.
"I'm not going to lose any sleep over today's game," Colsey said. "I'm proud of my kids' effort. I think it was a great high school game. If I was in the stands I know I would have enjoyed it. One more goal, especially there at the very end, would have made it that much more exciting."
Darien (15-0, 11-0 FCIAC), which sets annual preseason goals of winning the FCIAC and state titles, may have a chance to do so as an undefeated squad. Its regular season finale is on Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. at Westhill.
"You hope you're good enough to get to see them again in the finals if we can take care of business, but you never know," Brameier said. "I told these kids they'll move into a special crowd if they beat Westhill on Tuesday: A Darien team finishing unbeaten, and there's not too many of those."
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Darien 5, Ridgefield 4
DARIEN 2 0 2 1--5
RIDGEFIELD 1 0 2 1--4
Records: Darien 15-0, 11-0 FCIAC; Ridgefield 12-3, 9-2 FCIAC. Scoring: D--John Reed 2g; Jack Kniffin 1g, 2a; Peter Lindley 2g; William Hamernick 1a; Colin Mincus 1a. R--Peter Dearth 1g; Dylan Maher 2g; Ryan Dunn 1g; Simon Mathias 2a. Goalies: D--Phil Huffard (7 saves); R--Brendan Winne (8 saves). Shots: D-22; R--17.