Football: State championship preview

When Shelton and Darien meet on Saturday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. at Willbowbrook Park in New Britain, one squad will be ending a long-endured state football championship drought.

The top-seeded Gaels (12-0) are seeking their first state title since 2003 — sustaining near-misses in 2007 (28-14 defeat to Greenwich High) and 2014 (28-27 overtime loss to Xavier).

The Blue Wave, seeded No. 2 at 11-0, last reached the top of the mountain in 1996 with a 21-16 triumph over Bloomfield High in the Class S final. Since then, Darien has recorded six runner-up finishes.

In the semifinals, the Blue Wave crushed Southington High, 49-7, behind a dominating defensive effort.

Connecticut State Gatorade Player of the Year Mark Evanchick marshals the defense from his end position. Evanchick, who broke Dwight Freeney’s state sack record, has 21.5 sacks and a team-high 79 tackles this season.

Finlay Collins (64 tackles) and Mark Schmidt (60 tackles) clean up around the line of scrimmage from their linebacker slots.

In the secondary, the Blue Wave are led by Bobby Trifone and Matt Maignan with three interceptions apiece. Colin Trifone and Tyler Grant (11 passes defensed) contribute to the stifling coverage.

Darien also sports a potent offense, paced by quarterback Timmy Graham (2,896 yards passing, 34 touchdowns).

Shelby Grant is the primary ballcarrier at running back, with 772 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Graham’s top receiving targets are Colin Minicus, Hudson Hamill, Baylor Stewart and Grant.

Shelton advanced to the finals for the second year in a row by earning victories over West Haven High and Newtown High.