DARIEN — In the battle of champions, the Maloney football team emerged and put the rest of the state on notice with a marquee 21-9 victory over Darien on the road on Friday night.
The Spartans are 3-0 and have won 15 in a row overall. They left Darien High School triumphant after a dominating effort, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
“This isn’t only a huge win for Maloney, but it’s a huge win for the CCC,” Maloney coach Kevin Frederick said. “We wanted to represent the CCC well against Darien.
“It’s a big win for our program. We got some good momentum after winning the state championship last year. We want to continue to keep going. We want to be the mecca in Connecticut. We’re not done yet and we want to prove to everyone that we are the best team in the state of Connecticut.”
Maloney made multiple goal-line stands and forced three turnovers in the win.
Running back Josh Boganski (23-66, 2 TD) was bottled up for much of the game, but scored both of Maloney’s second-half touchdowns after the game was tied 7-7 at the half.
The game opened with both teams making stops on fourth down. Maloney junior linebacker Zakkai Moore stopped the progress of a Darien receiver short of the sticks on a fourth-and-3 at the Maloney 38.
Moore and the Maloney defense were fast and physical to the ball. Moore, a junior, made a game-high 16 tackles, had three tackles for a loss and an interception in what was a monster game.
“Our defense shows up every week; whoever wants it can come get it,” said Moore. “It was just a great team win. We showed a lot of heart today.”
On Maloney’s first possession, the Spartans stuck big on a 59-yard pass play from Kyle Valentine (5-for-19, 123 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) to Jaden Vasquez only to get thwarted on fourth-and-goal at the 2 when Boganski was tackled at the 1-yard line.
The frustration was temporary as the Spartans forced Darien to punt and JoJo Gonzalez returned it to the Blue Wave 14. Two snaps later, Valentine hit Donte Kelly (2 catches, 43 yards) with a 14-yard TD pass in the back corner of the end zone.
With 4:11 left in the first quarter, the Spartans were up 7-0.
“I came in confident,” Valentine said. “Darien is a good, physical team. I came in confident and the whole team rides on that wave.”
The Maloney defense initially made the 7-0 lead stand up in the second quarter, forcing the Blue Wave to two more 3-and-outs and a pair of punts.
Darien, though, also halted two Maloney drives in the period, and a healthy return after the second punt set up the Blue Wave at midfield late in the quarter. The Class LL champs cashed in on the field position to tie the game 7-7 by halftime. Jake Wilson scored on an 11-yard run with 1:14 on the clock.
For the half, Darien outgained Maloney, 135-109.
Starting the second half, Kelly had a long return of the opening kickoff negated by a penalty and Darien stuffed the Spartans 3-and-out.
A bummer of a start, and yet there was the defense, regaining the momentum. Moore came up with an interception, Valentine came on and hit Kelly with a 30-yard pass, and that set up Boganski for a 1-yard run that put Big Green up 14-7 with 9:36 left in the third quarter.
“If I’m being quite honest, it wasn’t me who scored those two touchdowns, it was the line,” Boganski said. “They are always putting in their work. At first I had a slow game, but they picked me up. In the second half, everything was there for us.”
The defense continued to hold up its end. Donald Highsmith registered a QB sack on the next series — it was Maloney’s second of the game; Raf Rodriguez had one in the first half — and a Darien punt followed shortly after.
Yet again, later in the third, the Spartans got a sack from Amani Ortiz.
All the stops ultimately led to what’s fast become a Maloney specialty: the big play on special teams.
Gonzalez, not long after limping off the field, returned and brought a punt 47 yards down to the Darien 1. Boganski finished it for his second TD of the night and a 21-7 Maloney lead with 45 seconds left in the quarter.
“It should have been to the crib, but it’s alright,” Gonzalez said. “We still scored off of it. It put us in great field position and that’s all I can do.”
The 21-7 lead looked shaky when Darien drove to the Maloney 4 and had first down, goal to go. The Spartans dug in and stopped the Blue Wave on four plays.
And again, later in the fourth, with 5½ minutes to play, the defense delivered, with Highsmith recovering a Darien fumble in Maloney territory.
The Blue Wave succeeded in keeping the Spartans hemmed in, though, and the snap on the ensuing punt was off the mark. With 2:42 left, Darien took over at the Maloney 9-yard line.
Once more to the breach. Maloney held and turned Darien over on downs.
Darien’s only points in the second half came on a safety by Layton Reesor that made it 21-9 with 1:26 left in the game.
Appropriately, Jesus Martel sealed the game for Maloney with a diving interception with 39 seconds to go. It came when the Darien receiver tipped Simeon Doll’s pass and Martel dove for the ball and caught it just inside the right sideline.
Darien fell to 1-2 on the season after losing its opener 14-0 to St. Joseph. The Blue Wave rebounded with a 47-0 win over Bridgeport Central.
Prior to Maloney’s win on Friday, Darien hadn’t lost a home game since Nov. 28, 2019 – a 20-0 loss against New Canaan on Thanksgiving. That was a seven-game home win streak. It’s over now.