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Upper Darby improvises on both sides in handling Strath Haven

NETHER PROVIDENCE >> As the Upper Darby sideline pleaded its case, four officials converged together. A few yards away, a yellow flag ominously laid on the field for the Royals, effectively serving as a wet blanket to the great play that would have sealed the game.

Upper Darby quarterback Josh Gouch had just bobbled the snap, regained it, danced through a maze of bodies at the line of scrimmage before engaging a would-be tackler. Gouch then spied Na’Sir Greer on the outside and zipped a bubble screen to him, Greer racing 28 yards to the Strath Haven 5-yard line.

Upper Darby quarterback Joshua Gouch, right, celebrates a touchdown with a teammate in the second half of a 21-7 win over Strath Haven Friday. (Digital First Media/Rick Kauffman)

The flag came out for an illegal forward pass, thus inciting the Royals’ rebuttal that it was a good lateral. Moments later, the referees picked up the flag, Quaran Davis dashed into the end zone on the next play and Upper Darby had iced its 21-7 Central League win over the Panthers.

A lot of drama in a brief moment, sure, but one of the Royals’ bread-and-butter plays came through when they needed it to.

“It’s a run-pass option, and after I got to the line, I saw (a defender) commit and I saw the other linebacker commit, so I thought, ‘might as well just throw it to my receiver,’” said Gouch, who ran for 115 of his game-high 147 yards in the second half. “It’s difficult for defenses to cover it, and that’s why we run it. It’s one of my favorite plays.”

Gouch gave the visitors a lead they’d never relinquish when he took a quarterback sweep 23 yards for a touchdown on 4th-and-5.

Davis finished the night with 99 yards on 19 carries as the Royals committed to the ground game in the second half to wear down a smaller Panthers side.

“They wore us down in the second half and we kind of beat ourselves and got out of our gaps. When we get tired, we lose focus,” Strath Haven linebacker Ryan Morris said. “(Gouch) was able to get outside. He’s a great quarterback and he can really run. You’ve got to account for everybody because he can throw it and run it. Everybody on that field can get the ball. You’ve got to have your eye on everybody.”

Upper Darby’s defense also stiffened in the second half. The Royals’ defense yielded just two second-half first downs as it clogged up running lanes against the Panthers’ Wing-T offense.

Strath Haven connected on its first passing play of the night, a 39-yard touchdown on a post route from Jake Fisher to Ibo Pio, and Zach Hussein rumbled for 84 yards on 20 carries. After that, it was all Upper Darby, all the time.

Upper Darby quarterback Joshua Gouch, right, avoids the pressure from Strath Haven linebacker Ethan Belville. Gouch ran for 147 yards in the Royals’ 21-7 win Friday. (Digital First Media/Rick Kauffman)

“We just picked it up,” defensive tackle Derrick Korboi said. “In the first half, we kind of took it easy to see what they were doing and how’d they run. We picked it up and shut them out (in the second half).”

“We adjusted and moved our ends in a little bit because they were just down blocking,” defensive end Richard Moore said. “We stopped their run inside, and that forced them to go outside. They run a Wing-T and Wing-Ts are bad at going laterally, so once we stopped that, we were able to stop them in the second half.”

Tough to argue with the results.

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