SPRINGFIELD >> Slotted on the outside and eyeing up his 1-on-1 matchup, David Strawley recognized the formation and had a good idea of what was coming.
Strawley, a Springfield senior, knew that Upper Darby would be feeding the Cougars’ defense a steady dose of screens. He expected it right away, too, so he had a feeling the ball was coming his way on the game’s first play from scrimmage.
Upper Darby quarterback Nate Rimel caught the snap, turned his hips and fired a quick screen to the outside. Strawley wasted no time breaking on it, intercepting it and returning it for a 35-yard touchdown.
“We’ve been going over it in practice all the time. I did it to one of our players in practice and just jumped it,” Strawley said. “When I caught it, I thought someone was going to come up behind me (and catch me).”
No such luck for the Royals, and it set the tone for the night. Strawley later added another pick-six, this time from 28 yards out, and the rout was on as Springfield knocked off the Royals, 38-14.
“I thought (the opening touchdown) was huge,” Strawley said. “We needed that.”
Sure doesn’t hurt, and neither does having an overwhelming advantage at the line of scrimmage. The Royals are missing three starting linemen for the rest of the season, and another was out against the Cougars (3-0, 2-0 Central League). Compounding matters was the fact that Springfield has a junior-laden defensive line that lived in the backfield. The Cougars snuffed out any semblance of an Upper Darby running game, holding the Royals to minus-four rushing yards on 24 carries, sacks included.
It didn’t get a whole lot better when the Royals were passing, either. Rimel threw for 250 yards on 38 attempts with touchdown strikes to Sean Burke (seven catches for 102 yards) and Jeremy Keita, but he was constantly on the run under heavy pressure from the Cougars. Nose guard Justin Shields will be receiving an invoice for rent due for the time he spent in the Royals’ backfield, a night that included a whopping four sacks.
“I thought they were pretty good on film, but when we came out, their right guard didn’t look too good,” Shields said. “We came out in the second half and took advantage of that. I told my defensive line coach that I could handle their right guard pretty well, and he sent me after that matchup and I made it happen.”
Fellow juniors Derek Strain, Dan Pennestri and Kevin Deal, along with senior Mike Ward, were also dominating the Royals’ offensive line. There’s plenty of familiarity there, too, with all of them growing up either playing together or against each other in youth and CYO football. That’s carried over when they strap on the blue and yellow jerseys, and that’s bad news for the Central League.
“We’ve been playing together for a while, so we know how to work together and what it takes,” Shields added.
The Royals (0-3, 0-2) tried to slow down the relentless pass rush by frequently using the screen game. It worked to an extent, but Upper Darby wasn’t able to consistently piece together strong drives. On the rare occasions that the Royals were able to keep Rimel upright and in the pocket, he stood tall and delivered, including a 45-yard strike to Burke.
“I saw that we outnumbered them on that side,” Rimel said. “It was between my inside guys, and the safety shot in to cover Jalen Camille, and Burke was wide open. You just go with the flow on a throw like that and let your instincts take over.”
Much like Strawley’s did on the opening play.