Upper Darby takes advantage of second chance

UPPER DARBY >> As Peter Jean lifted his arms triumphantly in the end zone, Tyler George’s shoulders slumped.

Then the Upper Darby linebacker saw the flag lying on the ground that so incensed the Conestoga bench, and he resolved not to let his head hang again Friday night.

George made the most of his and the Royals’ second chance, curtailing Conestoga’s comeback hopes with a strip-sack of quarterback Tim Miller that was recovered by James King to seal a 25-22 win.

“After I let up that touchdown pass and it got called back, I was thankful,” George said. “Everyone on the sideline told me to go make a play. They called a blitz play, I went in and got the quarterback.”

Such a colossal swing in momentum was only fitting for the 47 minutes of muddy chaos that preceded it. Upper Darby (5-1, 3-0 Central) accumulated a 19-0 lead at halftime against an anemic Conestoga offense … then promptly refunded it by surrendering 22 points 7:42 into the third quarter.

When Isaiah Bruce answered 2:14 later with a 67-yard burst — one of three touchdowns for the feature back — the teams seemed poised for a wild finish. Instead, that 25-22 scoreline held up in the face of 17 combined punts and one iffy penalty among many infractions.

One of the primary reasons was an Upper Darby defense that bent without breaking.The Royals were breached three times in the third quarter, ending a streak of six quarters without allowing a score dating to the Week 4 win over Ridley.

They were fine as long as they kept Corey Manning inside the tackles. When he escaped, he broke off TD runs of 58 and 6 yards, and one of 43 that set up a Miller-to-Jean connection for a five-yard score. They were aided by a botched punt snap which furnished a short field for the Pioneers (3-3, 2-2).

Manning finished with 27 totes for 209 yards.

“It’s about passion,” Manning said. “We had to work together as a team. We had to come out there as a unit. We weren’t working as a team, staying on our blocks. We came out, worked as a team, stayed with our blocks and we got the momentum, and we played with our passion; played with our hearts.”

The duel of tailbacks required a riposte, and Bruce obliged. Already with a 39-yard scoring run and a 57-yard, wheel-route score from Christoff Minott before halftime, Bruce gave Upper Darby the spark it desperately needed, sprinting through an arm tackle and dashing 67 yards down the left sideline with 2:04 left in the third that represented the last points on the board.

“They didn’t need me (to step up), per se,” Bruce said. “But as a team as a whole, we played well and didn’t give up.”

That was especially evident on the defensive side. Naiqjaun McKenzie picked off Miller in the first half, part of limiting the Conestoga signal-caller to a passing line of 5-for-19 for 98 yards. He was under constant pressure from the Royals frontline, which forced eight punts.

Dane Burke stood Manning up twice in short-yardage situations in the fourth quarter in Upper Darby territory, while linemates James O’Hara and Derick Korboi kept Miller perpetually on the run in the pocket.

The Royals, though, were less than clinical running out the clock. They went away from Bruce, who finished with 31 carries for 219 yards, on several third downs. One clock-eating conversion came when Brandon Morton, who caught a 75-yard touchdown in the first half, dove to scoop a Minott pass off the turf.

But Minott misfired on a third-and-6 at midfield with 2:30 left, the only consolation being that Nate Rimel’s ninth punt of the day sailed 50 yards to the 3.

Miller got Conestoga marching, though. He hit Jean for 32 yards, aided by a facemask penalty. On fourth and 10, he lofted a fade to Dondre Ross for 34 to the 21. On the next snap, he found Jean in the end zone for what looked like the go-ahead score, but with the referees’ dissent, George and Upper Darby persevered.

“It was a big setback, but we overcame it,” Bruce said. “We stayed in the game and we stayed with it.”

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