Minnott returns to guide Upper Darby offense

UPPER DARBY — There are plenty of ways to respond to losing a starting quarterback. Averaging 60 points per game with a backup isn’t usually one of them.

That’s been the response for Upper Darby the last two weeks, and that adversity may serve them well Thursday as they meet neighborhood rival Haverford in the 93rd installment of their historic series.

Just as junior quarterback Christoff Minott was settling into (and opening up the possibilities of) the Royals’ offense in Week 9 against Conestoga, an injury to his non-throwing shoulder shelved him for the rest of the regular season.

All replacement Charles Kanneh did was lead three touchdown drives in a 43-27 loss to the Pioneers, then orchestrate the Royals’ return to a run-heavy approach in putting up 70 points on Lower Merion and 50 on Penn Wood.

Even though it came against teams with two combined wins, the job done by the senior in Minott’s stead makes the latter’s return Thursday a seamless transition.

“We didn’t have to change anything,’ Upper Darby coach Rich Gentile said. “I think most coaches would tell you if your starting quarterback goes down, you get worried about being able to do the same things with the backup. Because Charles is a senior and he’s worked so hard, we really didn’t have to change much. We basically kept our same offense.’

That means Minott and the threat of his downfield passing attack can step right back into an Upper Darby (6-5) offense that has proven it can beat teams on the ground.

“I think it’s a positive form the simple fact that Christoff thinks that he can will you to win in any game,’ Gentile said. “He thinks if he has the ball at the end of any game, than we’re going to win. Having that kind of person lead your offense is a positive.’

“I think we’ve been a running team all year,’ said feature back Isaiah Bruce. “But it helps that we have a pass game to open up the run with the pass. It helps both.’

They’ll need that kind of balance against a Haverford (7-4) team that has held opponents under 14 points on six occasions. They were burned for 35 points in their Class AAAA first-round loss to Coatesville, the top seed which will play for a District One title this week, but much of the damage came early. While those opening blows staggered the Fords, their gritty defense managed to hold down Coatesville’s explosive offense in the second half, allowing them to win the half in what became a 35-12 setback.

Thursday’s game features a clash of styles. Coupled with that strong defense, the controlled passing game of Haverford quarterback Jack Donaghy — with possession receivers like Nick Costello and John Kim — and steady running back Kevin Maloney favors a low-scoring game. Upper Darby has topped 50 points three times, their lowest winning score of the season being 27 points.

At least one thing is sure to be different this time. Haverford coach Joe Gallagher, in his 23rd season, won’t be on the sidelines Thursday, having taken a voluntary leave of absence following a DUI charge in early November. Jack O’Donnell, who led the Fords against Coatesville, will again be in charge.

That’ll cause an adjustment for Gentile, who’s led the Royals for 20 seasons.

“It’ll be a little weird if he’s not at the luncheon on Wednesday,’ Gentile said. “Him and I, it’s so funny, we always talk about the same stuff every year. But not having him there, if he’s not there, will be a little different situation. And not seeing him on the sideline, it would be different.’

Between the lines, though, the motivation remains the same as it ever was.

“I want to win my last game,’ Upper Darby senior linebacker Chris Gambone said. “It’s the last game I’ll ever play, so I don’t want to win. I don’t want to go in my last game ever and lose.’

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