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Defense sets tone as Upper Darby sacks Lower Merion

LOWER MERION >> When Richard Tougeekay and his fellow Upper Darby co-captains approach midfield for the pregame coin toss, there’s no doubt as to what the Royals want if the coin flips their way.

“We feel like if we win the toss and get on defense, we set the tone every time,” the senior linebacker said. “It helps the offense go out there and make their job easier because they see us setting an example for them.”

By the time Tougeekay and his mates on the first defensive unit made way late in the third quarter Saturday, they’d battered the Lower Merion offense and given the Royals’ attack plenty of space to operate in a 34-6 Central League win.

The Royals pitched a shutout for three quarters. They limited Lower Merion to 17 rushing yards on 26 carries, thanks to seven sacks of quarterback Marek D’Alonzo, two on the first series. They forced three turnovers, offering a buffer for the offense to awaken from its slumber for the morning kickoff.

D’Alonzo hit the turf early and often at the hands of Richard Moore (two sacks, four tackles for loss), and Derrick Korboi and Kevon Robinson (1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss each). Lineman Daniel Snyder pounced on a D’Alonzo fumble in the first quarter.

The Aces signal-caller was limited to 10-for-24 passing, picked off by Quaran Davis and Sammy Beweh, and under constant duress. Despite throwing a late touchdown and connecting with seven receivers, he got the ball to top playmaker Deion Davis just once, for five yards, on seven targets.

“The mentality is always just to be aggressive, just to get upfield, get in the QB’s face because they’re pass-happy a lot,” Moore said. “… As long as we’re aggressive, we can always stop them. If they can’t score points, they can’t win.”

“We build around our front four,” Tougeekay said. “Without them, we can’t do anything. It’s being aggressive all day, every day. (Coach Rich) Gentile says come out in practice every day and be aggressive, and we can’t be beat.”

The Royals’ ability to fire off the ball allowed the offense to sort itself out. Josh Gouch was uncharacteristically wayward in the passing game, completing three of 12 attempts. The running game picked up the slack, led by Davis, back in the lineup after missing a game with an ankle injury.

He carried 10 times for a game-high 77 yards, including a 20-yard scoring burst in the first quarter and a three-yard touchdown a minute into the second half.

“We were kind of trying to work out the kinks,” Davis said of the offense. “We started getting our groove on. The first quarter, we kind of started off slow. But after that, we all got into a groove with each other and we were grooving together. That’s what made us put up points on the board.”

Gouch (10 carries, 76 yards) and Justin O’Donnell (six for 47) also ran for second-quarter touchdowns as the Royals (3-2, 2-2 Central) racked up 251 yards on the ground. Gouch threw for 70, including a 47-yard hookup with Nasir Green on the opening drive of the third quarter and a seven-yard touchdown to Ryan Tegethoff, who atoned for dropping a beautiful would-be score that Gouch dropped into his hands early in the quarter.

The Tegethoff score made it 34-0 midway through the third, a bad extra point snap scuttling the chance at a running clock and allowing D’Alonzo time to get the Aces on the board. He found Marcus Green for a 56-yard completion, then hit Jalen Goodman for 16 on fourth-and-10 from the 20. On second-and-goal, D’Alonzo’s deflected pass found the soft hands of tight end Tahj Wheeler in the end zone, the 6-3, 245-pounder hauling it in with one hand.

“I thought the kid was going to pick it off, but then he didn’t,” Wheeler said. “I had to react really fast.”

But that was too little, too late, thanks to an Upper Darby defense that started fast and never slowed.

“It’s more that we have to make a statement,” Moore said. “And that gets our offense rolling.”



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