UPPER DARBY >> The best Upper Darby High football game Rich Gentile had ever seen, and he’d only been around the place in various capacities since 1975, wasn’t over for 15 minutes, and already he was thinking about the next one.
Or maybe considering all history, distant and recent, it truly was the only one.
“Thanksgiving Day,” the Royals’ coach said, eyes gleaming, chest just a little bit out after a spectacular fourth-quarter rally and a 41-34 triumph over Garnet Valley. “That will be the best one in 40 years. Haverford. For the outright Central League championship.”
When Christoff Minott raced 46 yards for a touchdown with 1:26 left to cap his 386 all-purpose-yard night, the Royals were 9-1 overall, 7-0 in the Central and deeper involved in the state tournament scene. But the Upper Darby-Haverford routine, dating to 1921, will have that additional flavor, given the Fords’ equally perfect conference record.
To make that happen, though, first required some faith. That, Gentile showed in his coaching staff, which recruited him at halftime to try an onside kick to begin the third quarter. The Royals down, 20-7, at that point, Gentile agreed, the trickery ensued, the loose ball was recovered and the rally was on.
Seconds later, Brandon Morton was catching a 48-yard touchdown pass from Minott, and Garnet Valley was catching a hint of at least a brewing threat.
The Royals would score 34 second-half points, 14 in the final 8:54, stunning the Jags, who fell to 7-3 overall, 6-2 and out of the race for the Central League championship.
“I think we’re still in the playoffs,” Jags’ coach Mike Ricci said. “It was a great high school football game. It was a shame that anybody had to lose that game. Both teams made big plays. Both teams had turnovers. Both teams capitalized on turnovers. Sometimes, you get in a great game and that’s what happens. I just thought it was a great high school football game and my hat is off to Upper Darby.”
With a running attack that generated 456 yards, Garnet Valley took a 34-20 lead with 9:40 to play, Derrick West scoring on a 5-yard run amid his 29-carry, 245-yard, three-touchdown effort.
But Upper Darby answered 46 seconds later on a 46-yard TD pass from Minott to Calvin Fielding … and the rally continued. Zeno Temple and Chris Smith made big defensive stops to stunt the resulting Upper Darby possession, and Isaiah Bruce would make it matter with a 3-yard touchdown run with 3:57 showing to make it 34-34. That was after Minott’s 47-yard pass to Bruce had shortened the field.
“We had to get it together,” said Bruce, who had 106 receiving yards and rushed for 49 more. “We came out slow in the first half and weren’t too focused. But we came out in the second half and rallied together.”
Fielding made loud defensive stop on the next Garnet Valley possession, and with 2:16 left, the Royals had the ball at their 37. Minott ran 46 yards for the game-winner 50 seconds later.
“We had a play called to the left and I reversed the call because the defensive tackle was lined up to the other side,” Minott said. “So I checked it and made something happen.”
Earlier, it was the Jags creating the highlights, including a 66-yard touchdown run from Danny Guy, and West scoring sprints of 35 and 42 yards. But Upper Darby would not relent.
“We were letting everybody know that we might be down,” Minott said “But until there are triple-zeros on the clock, we are never out of the game.”
With that, the Royals were down to one Central League game to make history … and one amazing victory over Garnet Valley to remember.
“It was the best game I have played in, coached in or even seen,” Gentile said. “I give these kids a tremendous amount of credit. Garnet Valley is a great football team. West is amazing. But we made enough stops.
“I don’t know who we are playing in the playoffs, but after seeing how they played against that team tonight, I am looking forward to playing anyone in District One right now. These kids have a quiet confidence about themselves. Any other team would have quit. But we just kept going.”
And they didn’t have to be told where, in the Central League, to head next.
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