UPPER DARBY >> Memories of last year’s 91-point shootout faded in the first quarter of the 2016 installment of the Haverford High-Upper Darby Thanksgiving Day rivalry, when the teams exchanged punts on the first four drives and combined for zero first downs.
Defense, at least temporarily, was back again after a taking a season off.
Fords linebacker Jack Farrell couldn’t have been happier. The senior All-Delco inspired a 35-21 victory that made it seven in a row for Haverford (7-5 overall, 6-3 Central League) against Upper Darby (5-7, 4-5).
If last year’s squad took the identity of its record-setting quarterback Jack Donaghy, this season’s team followed in the footsteps of Farrell: tough, resilient, smart.
“He leaves here as the all-time leading tackler. He’ll be a two-time All-Delco,” said Fords coach Joe Gallagher of Farrell’s legacy. “He’s one of the best football players I’ve coached. Quite simply.”
“He’s special,” said Kareem Bernard. “He’s special.”
On the defensive side, Farrell led a group that held a high-flying Royals offense without a first down until the 6:29 mark of the second quarter. That conversion came via an offsides penalty against the visitors. By the time halftime rolled around, Upper Darby had accumulated just 28 yards of total offense.
Still, the Royals broke the early deadlock with Obadiah Asare’s 34-yard fumble recovery, giving them a seven-point lead.
Haverford bounced back from consecutive three-and-outs and that fumble-recovery touchdown to race out to a 21-7 lead.
“You know what, I think we were a little rusty,” said Gallagher. “Three weeks is a long time without playing a game. But we seemed to shake it off. We got it together.”
Haverford’s Jake Ruane floated a deep ball that Jordan Mosley came down with in the end zone to knot the game at seven to close the first quarter. Ruane finished the season with 2,119 passing yards, the 14th-best single-season total in county history. The Fords then took advantage of favorable field position to double-up the hosts. John Klee’s five-yard scamper capped a short drive sparked by Bernard’s running.
Bernard made sure to get into the end zone himself before the half was over. A jet sweep with 3:31 left did the trick as Bernard broke left and split the Royals’ secondary for six.
“He ignited us,” said Gallagher. “Kareem Bernard really ignited us. Clearly.”
But Upper Darby responded after the break, as any team with Nate Rimel at quarterback would.
“They got great players over there, so obviously they’re going to get first downs, they’re going to score touchdowns,” conceded Farrell. “They gave us a really tough game.”
Plagued by some drops in the first half, Rimel found his rhythm in the third quarter. He connected with Asare three times on the second drive of the frame for 26 yards, including a dart on fourth-and-12 that kept Upper Darby’s hopes alive. Two plays later, Rimel faked a screen and fired a bullet that just missed the defensive back’s finger tips on its way to Josh Gouch for a 15-yard touchdown. The Royals were back in business, and each completion inched Rimel closer to a single-season school record for passing yards.
But thoughts of a comeback were erased in 1:22 of game time. Upper Darby trailed 21-13 at the 2:46 mark. The deficit was 35-13 with 1:24 left in the quarter.
Bernard answered Gouch’s score with a 60-yard run on the first play of the drive. He dragged a few Royals into the end zone with him.
“I needed to score,” he said. “It was a huge pump-up boost for the team.”
Then came the play that cemented Farrell’s place in Haverford lore, if he hadn’t already locked up a spot. He read Rimel’s eyes, snared a pass over the middle and ran untouched 50 yards for a touchdown.
“I just read my keys, do what my coaches always coach me to do,” Farrell said. “And I ran about the slowest 40 time this field has ever seen.”
Self-deprecating humor aside, Farrell’s romp proved to be the final points of the Fords’ victory and appropriately so. He’s been the team’s best player and one of the county’s best, too.
But Rimel and Upper Darby would have their moment as well. Coming into the game, the senior needed 140 yards through the air to break Bobby McLaughlin’s 1991 school record of 2,302. Rimel eclipsed that mark in the fourth quarter, fittingly on a touchdown pass. Rimel finished with 172 yards for the day and 2,335 yards for the season, the seventh-highest single-season total in county history.
Asare, who caught 11 passes for 151 yards in the game, fought off two defenders to come down with the 35-yard toss. On the sideline, McLaughlin smiled and dropped his head as fellow alums patted him on the back. He had unknowingly, and generously it should be said, contributed to the record-breaker when he and a group of alumni funded a program this summer that would support the Royals academically and athletically.
“It was bittersweet,” McLaughlin said. “But at the end of the day, honestly, seeing him do what he did, knowing about his family background and what it meant to Upper Darby football, it was very rewarding.”
Rimel did his best to deflect praise. He would have rather the record come in a win as much for his teammates as himself. And yet, he could appreciate the significance of his contribution.
“It just shows, once you’re a Royal, you’re always going to be there,” Rimel said. “You’re always going to come back and support. Everybody is a family. It’s actually a family.”