Smith: Upper Darby-Haverford will be worth the wait

Ignoring it is impossible, so Upper Darby and Haverford have chosen to embrace the hype surrounding their Thanksgiving morning confrontation.
It’s the biggest game in the history of the rivalry.
For now, though, they wait. The Royals and Fords have first-round District One Class AAAA home playoff games to worry about winning Friday night.
Both teams are 9-1 overall and 7-0 in the Central League and both are seeded high in the district tournament. If the Fords and Royals are fortunate enough to win their first two playoff contests, they’ll meet in the semifinal round Thanksgiving morning for the Central League title.
So, if there was any doubt whatsoever that the Turkey Bowl would be cancelled this year, fans should be thrilled to know there isn’t a chance in you-know-what that’s going to happen.
This is a monumental game for Delaware County football.
Not even a deep run in districts can spoil the moment.
It’s going down, no matter what.
“Honestly,” Upper Darby coach Rich Gentile said at the Delaware County Coaches Association meeting Monday night, “it doesn’t get any better than this for both schools. It absolutely doesn’t get any better.”
But before Gentile and his good pal/longtime Haverford coach Joe Gallagher shift their entire focus on the game of the decade in Delco, they have other business to attend to.
“It’s our fourth time in districts and our first home game we’ve ever had,” Gentile said. “That means a lot, to see what we’ve been able to do this year and have it pay off.”
Gentile, though, can’t help but notice the enthusiasm and buzz surrounding this year’s Haverford-Upper Darby showdown. It’s like nothing he’s ever seen before, he said, and the game is still two weeks away.
It’s a good distraction. The excitement is contagious.
“It’s nuts now,” Gentile said. “People are talking more about that game, at least in school and around us, than the playoff game. It’s kind of like, ‘You know, it’s really nice that you have a home playoff game, but we can’t wait for Thanksgiving.’ That’s where it is now.
“When Joe and I got here (at the coaches meeting) tonight, he looked at me and he goes, ‘How long have we talked about this?’ And I said, ‘Forever.’ I’ve always said that people in the state who don’t know about Thanksgiving day games, if we play for the championship, that it will be the biggest Thanksgiving game ever. With all of our lineage and everything, it means so much.”
Gentile and Gallagher aren’t downplaying the importance of being two of 16 teams to qualify for the District One Class AAAA tournament.
“We have goals to win,” Gentile said. “It’s something we’ve never been able to do. For this senior class, winning a playoff game would be something special. It would be nice for the kids to say they were the first team in (Upper Darby history) to play in and win a district home game.”
Before Gentile can think about Fords quarterback Jack Donaghy, he and defensive coordinator Dennis Keegan have devised a plan to knock off quarterback Brandon McIlwain and 11th-seeded Council Rock North. Meanwhile, Haverford welcomes No. 10 Perkiomen Valley to town.
“He’s the real threat,” Gentile said of McIlwain, who is a South Carolina commit and the sixth-ranked quarterback recruit in the nation, according to
“If you can slow him down a little bit, that will make a difference. You have to get him off his spot, rattle him a little. Everything runs through him. A lot of quarterbacks, when they move, they’re going to run. But he moves and he attacks the line of scrimmage and is looking for people to come up so he can dump the ball out.
“Hopefully we have enough guys on him to prevent that.”
C.R. North and Perkiomen Valley are on the agenda for this week. Come next Friday, Upper Darby and Haverford could be preparing for the district quarterfinal round.
But with one eye firmly on their date with destiny.
To contact Matt Smith, email or follow him on Twitter @DTMattSmith. For statistical leaders, standings and more, visit

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