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Gouch, Upper Darby defense unite to tame Penncrest

UPPER DARBY >> Josh Gouch had another big game Friday night carving up an opponent’s defense with both his legs and his arm, leading Upper Darby to its fourth straight win with a lopsided 34-7 victory over Penncrest.

Gouch ran for 108 yards and two rushing touchdowns while adding 146 yards in the air, including a perfectly thrown 21-yard TD strike to senior Ryan Tegethoff in the third quarter that put the finishing touch on a resilient Lions team in the second half.

But the senior quarterback didn’t take much credit. During their four-game winning streak, the Royals outscored opponents, 156-40. It’s that 40 points Gouch highlighted after earning his fifth win as Upper Darby’s starting quarterback.

Upper Darby quarterback Josh Gouch throws a pass to wide receiver Jalen Camille during the first half against Penncrest Friday. Gouch ran for 108 yards and threw for 146 in the Royals’ 34-7 win over Penncrest. (For Digital First Media/Eric Hartline)

“I’m blessed to have a defense like ours,” Gouch said with a huge smile. “All those big guys over there, they bailed me out. They bail me and my offense out. I’m blessed to have them.”

Upper Darby finished with eight sacks, getting constant pressure on Penncrest quarterbacks Chris Mills and Chris Chelo while bending at times but not breaking.

The Royals stifled the Lions’ rushing attack in the first half and allowed just 32 total rushing yards. But in the second half, Penncrest’s offense started to find some rhythm.

Penncrest had 28 rushing yards in the final 24 minutes, with Mills and Chelo getting involved more in the QB run game while junior Vincent Brown was utilized more. Brown ran for 17 yards on five carries and caught four balls for 34 in the second half.

Still, when the Royals’ defense began to bend, their front seven would force hurried throws or pull down Mills or Chelo for a sack as Penncrest rotated quarterbacks.

“Our guys were finally able to get the ball outside (in the second half),” Penncrest coach Andrew Pidgeon said. “We spread them out and that allowed us to go inside. But up front, they’ve got some tough dudes. They got some great players and they stuffed us pretty good.”

The Lions’ offense has struggled in Pidgeon’s first year as coach. Penncrest has scored just seven points in each of its last four games and 75 points in seven games with just one win. When Upper Darby when up 14-0 in the first quarter, it could have been game over, but Penncrest kept battling.

“You can never take a team too light because then they’ll come out and beat you,” Gouch said. “We kind of did that, but once we noticed they weren’t going to lay down, we picked it up.”

Upper Darby’s Na’Sir Greer intercepts pass intended for Penncrest’s Sam Sav during the first half at Upper Darby High School. (For Digital First Media/Eric Hartline)

Since losing to Garnet Valley and Springfield, two of the top teams in Delco, in back-to-back weeks, Upper Darby has rung off four straight victories. The Royals’ defense has continued to be stout and now the offense is beginning to produce.

Friday, Upper Darby coach Rich Gentile said the Penncrest game concerned him and so does next week’s game against Strath Haven, which beat Conestoga, 44-7.

Gentile doesn’t want to disrespect his opponents — it’s just that with his defense and now his offense clicking, he doesn’t believe there is a game the Royals could lose until Middletown in two weeks.

That mentality, Gentile said, can bite a team. It didn’t Friday.

“I’ve been saying it since the Springfield game,” he said. “Every team that we play against from now on in up until Middletown, we should beat. … Up until this point, I think we’ve played well defensively. We’ve given the ball to our offense and now our offense, in the past three weeks, has been scoring points. We’re coming together at the right time.”

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