Looks like there's going to be an FCIAC championship game after all.
In one of the most dramatic games -- and certainly finishes -- of the season, junior Nick Lombardo came down with the ball in the corner of the end zone despite triple coverage in the waning seconds on a 35-yard pass from Henry Baldwin as Darien pulled out a wild 26-20 victory over previously undefeated Trinity Catholic Saturday afternoon at Alumni Field.
"It was a wheel route an dI was just thinking 'go make a play' the entire time," Lombardo said. "We had a sense of urgency coming in, it was like let's go play spoiler. This is a big win fir us, and hopefully we can ride the momentum into the Turkey Bowl (against rival New Canaan)."
The Crusaders' first loss of 2012 leaves Staples and Greenwich -- both easy winners Saturday -- as the last of the league's unbeatens and on track for a Thanksgiving morning rematch for the FCIAC title.
For a while, it seemed as if the Crusaders (7-1) would continue their dream season.
Trinity Catholic took a 7-6 lead into the intermission, and later tied the game, 20-20, on a 3-yard run by senior Shaquan Howsie with 3:43 remaining.
Both teams were forced to punt on the muddy track in the final minutes, and the Crusaders caught a big break when junior Robert Tusch recovered a fumbled punt return on the Darien 27.
Trinity, however, would get no further against Darien's stout defense, and quarterback Danny O'Leary was sacked on fourth down by freshman Mark Evanchick.
That left the Blue Wave (5-3) with 66 yards to go, and under 30 seconds to do it.
Darien considered running out the clock and playing for overtime -- both teams had already gone past regulation this season -- but head coach Rob Trifone made a last-second decision to be aggressive and at least try to get into field goal range.
"I said let's take a shot," Trifone said. "We've had some injuries and I think we were better than a 4-3 team coming in, but one thing we've been working on is poise. These kids have come a long way. It was a great game, and just a tremendous catch by Nick."
Lombardo's touchdown was set up by a 31-yard pass from Baldwin to senior Peter Gesualdi, who also scored on a 5-yard run and added an interception on the day.
After Lombardo's score with 7.5 seconds left, the Crusaders would get two cracks at a Hail Mary, but it was to no avail.
There will now be a new script to the storybook season.
"Darien is a good team and defensively they played well," said Trinity Catholic coach Pete Stokes, who considered giving kicker John Benalcazar a shot at the poential game-winning field goal from 44 yards out before Evanchik's sack.
"That No. 54 (Matt D'Andrea), God bless him, he's a handful. This is a character builder for us, and like i told our players after the game, now we have to come together."
The Crusaders, currently No. 5 in the Class S playoff point rankings, got on the board first thanks to a 2-yard run by Howsie late in the first quarter.
But Howsie, arguably top back in the league, was bottled up to the tune of 26 yards on 20 carries by a swarming defense spearheaded by down linemen D'Andrea, Chris Hamernick and Benjamin Sickinger, and a linebacking corps led by Andrew Malley.
Darien took its first lead on a 7-yard run by junior Jay Harrison with 4:32 left in the third quarter, a touchdown that was set up by a partially blocked punt.
Trinity Catholic regained the advantage on the final play of the third quarter -- a 64-yard scoring pass from O'Leary to junior Neno Merritt, who had a big day with two interceptions on defense as well.
The Crusaders, who tried a fake punt in the first half, reached into their bag of tricks again and attempted an onside kick on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The ball didn't travel the full 10 yards, however, and five plays later, the Blue Wave took advantage when Baldiwn connected on a 10-yard pass to James Bennett, who made a falling catch in the corner of the end zone.
There would be plenty of more big plays to come.
"We emptied our bag (of tricks)," Stokes said, "It was a good round of golf. But in the end, they made two more plays than we did."