LOWER MERION >> Upper Darby’s Isaiah Bruce was happy to become the first running back in program history to rush for more than 300 yards in a game.
And the speedy 5-9, 185-pound senior was delighted that his record-setting effort enabled Bruce to move into second place on the school’s single-season rushing list, behind only Simoni Lawrence.
However, he was most thrilled that his 322-yard, three-touchdown performance powered the Royals to a much-tougher-than-it-looked 49-0 decision over Lower Merion at Arnold Field Saturday.
Individual numbers are nice, but Bruce is all about the Ws these days and the latest victory kept the Royals very much alive in the Central League championship race, which could be decided Thanksgiving Day, when Upper Darby visits Haverford.
Of course, that’s provided Upper Darby (8-1 overall, 6-0 Central League) knocks off Garnet Valley (7-2, 5-1) next and the Fords (8-1, 6-0) hold up their end of the bargain and get past Lower Merion. Then the annual Thanksgiving Day bash will be a winner-take-all-showdown for the title.
Upper Darby took care of business in Week 9, thanks to Bruce and a defense that came up huge twice in the first half and held the Aces (1-8, 1-6) to one yard in the second half.
Bruce only needed 17 carries to become the first back in Upper Darby history to run for 300 yards in a game and only the second to go for more than 1,600 yards in a season. His 322 yards were the ninth best single-game performance in country history. His 1,690 yards for the season are second only to Lawrence, who ran for 2,136 yards in 2005.
“It means a lot,” Bruce said of his individual accomplishment. “I have to give it to my O-line. They got me here. They’ve been pushing for me this whole season.”
As good as Bruce was, the Upper Darby offense did struggle in the first half. The Royals turned the ball over three times and led 21-0 at the break.
“I can’t remember the last time I was up 21 at halftime and ticked off,” Upper Darby coach Rich Gentile said. “Give them credit. Bryan (Scopelliti) does a great job and they came out and did some things that wasn’t on film. And they had some players who made plays and we didn’t. We weren’t in our right mindset and that’s our fault as coaches.”
Gentile had reason to be upset. Had it not been for the defense, the game could have been tied at the break. The Royals had three goal-line stands to keep the Aces off the board after the first 24 minutes. Were the Royals looking ahead to Friday’s showdown with Garnet Valley?
“I just think it was because this was a Saturday game,” defensive end Shawn Page said. “We’re not used to playing Saturday games. A Friday game, it’s not until 7 o’clock, you have the whole day to get your mind right. We had to get to it right away today and we weren’t ready.”
“We may have been looking ahead a little,” Gentile said, “but the bottom line is they ran hard and they made plays.”
Whatever the reason Upper Darby righted itself and put four touchdowns on the board while the defense kept Lower Merion in check. The Royals held the Aces to minus-nine yards rushing. If not for a 10-yard completion, LM would have been minus yardage for the half.
“Our front four is really good,” Gentile said. “And most of them, except for Shawn Page, are underclassmen and they’re really good. When our backs were against the wall, we played well defensively.”
As for Bruce, he is aware that he makes history nearly every time he touches the football. With 1,690 yards and at least three games to play, including the playoffs, he has an outside shot to break Lawrence’s single-season record, but that’s not his goal.
“I just want to do anything to help my team win,” Bruce said.
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