UPPER DUBLIN >> Upper Dublin quarterback Ryan Stover passed for 270 yards and three touchdowns Friday night against Upper Darby in the quarterfinal round of the District One Class AAAA playoffs.
The 6-4, 210-pound senior and group of ace receivers gave the sixth-seeded Royals all they could handle en route to a 45-14 victory.
Stover was well aware of Upper Darby’s secondary and realized this could be his biggest test of the season. He gave props to one defensive back in particular.
“Number 23, I don’t know his name, but he’s amazing,” Stover said.
Stover was referring to senior Naiqjuan McKenzie, who had an interception late in the game after the outcome was well in hand.
“They have a lot of speed back there,” Stover said. “We don’t see a lot of man defense, but I think we proved that we can handle it tonight.”
While Stover and the No. 3 Flying Cardinals (12-0) advance to the semifinal round to play the winner of Saturday’s contest between No. 15 Pennsbury and 10th-seeded Perkiomen Valley, the Royals kept their heads high after the lopsided defeat. Sure, a trip to the district semis would have been sweet, but the Royals (10-2) have one more huge game on the schedule Thanksgiving morning against Haverford in a winner-take-all showdown for the Central League title.
Like Stover, the Royals gave credit where it was deserved Friday night.
“They’re a really good, fundamentally-sound team and they executed to perfection tonight,” senior linebacker Dane Burke said.
The Royals had a difficult time wrapping up Stover, who operated out of the shotgun most of the night and used his size to work out of trouble and find the open receiver.
“It was a little bit frustrating,” Burke said. “We were getting pressure, but he’s an outstanding player and he made plays.”
One week after Upper Darby’s offense produced 538 yards in a 59-34 triumph over Council Rock North — the first district playoff win in program history — the Flying Cardinals put up 501 yards in the winning effort. In addition to Stover’s big throws, speedy running back Stacey Gardner gashed the Royals for 114 yards on just nine carries, eight of which came in the opening half.
Upper Dublin scored 21 first-quarter points, including a pair of scoring scampers from Gardner. The large deficit was a crushing blow to the Royals, who needed a fast start offensively to have any shot. After going three-and-out on their first two possessions, and already trailing 21-0, Isaiah Bruce ran 61 yards to the end zone to give the Royals hope.
Bruce, who ripped off a county season-best 337 yards and seven touchdowns in last week’s win, had a tough time navigating Upper Dublin’s relentless front seven, powered by Jack Rapine.
Upper Darby coach Richie Gentile didn’t mince words about the Upper Dublin defense.
“Their 11 guys are the fastest high school football team I’ve ever seen,” he said. “We ran option once and we pitched it to the guy we were supposed to pitch it to, and Isaiah is out there with five guys out there and nowhere to go. They’re just really athletic. They’re fundamentally sound as far as tackling is concerned … but they read so well and then they attack. They’re so quick off the ball.”
Bruce amassed 104 of his 113 yards rushing on his two big scoring jaunts. He set the school’s single-season rushing record, unseating All-Delco Simoni Marco Lawrence, who rushed for 2,136 yards in 2005. Bruce’s 35 touchdowns ties Matt Craig of Springfield’s single-season county record.
Bruce spent most of his night consumed by the onslaught of tacklers that made their way into the backfield. Upper Dublin penetrated the Royals’ normally excellent offensive line with ease. Senior quarterback Christoff Minott often was forced to scramble outside the pocket to find his targets, as he connected on just 7 of 19 attempts for 70 yards.
“Obviously, Isaiah Bruce was our big concern after his big game last week, but we also felt our defense could shut them down,” Stover said.
It’s hard to pick against the Cardinals moving forward as they return to the district semifinal round for the second straight year
“They can play with anyone,” Gentile said. “The quarterback puts the ball where it needs to be so his receivers can make plays. They have quick backs that, if the hole’s not there, can dart outside and go. It’s going to take a very good football team to beat them.”
Upper Darby can now turn the page to Thursday morning in what is being dubbed the biggest Thanksgiving football game in Delco history.
“I never liked to lose and this hurts a little,” McKenzie said. “But I’m definitely looking forward to Haverford; it’s something I waited for all year. It’s for the Central League championship and it will be a big game.”
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