Bruce, Upper Darby roll into second round

UPPER DARBY >> It didn’t matter to Upper Darby running back Isaiah Bruce that he broke a pair of school records — including one of his own — Friday night in the opening round of the District One Class AAAA playoffs.

All that mattered to Bruce is what the scoreboard read at the end of the game: Upper Darby 59, Council Rock North 34.

Bruce was unstoppable, rushing for 337 yards and seven touchdowns to lead the Royals to their first district playoff win in school history. He bested his single-game rushing mark by 15 yards and also took down Simoni Marco Lawrence’s single-game touchdown achievement. He has 30 rushing TDs on the year.

Ten flame emojis wouldn’t do his performance justice. His teammates and coaches have run out of words to say, too.

Upper Darby's Christoff Minott looks downfield during the Royals' 59-34 win over Council Rock North Friday. (Special to the Times/Anne Neborak)
Upper Darby’s Christoff Minott looks downfield during the Royals’ 59-34 win over Council Rock North Friday. (Special to the Times/Anne Neborak)

“You just keep repeating yourself,” coach Richie Gentile said.

As has been the case the entire season, Bruce was humble and somewhat tentative to talk about the work he did on the field. He directed all credit to his offensive line. Most of all, he was thrilled to be a part of a historic victory for the sixth-seeded Royals, who move on to play No. 3 Upper Dublin in the district quarterfinal round next week.

“It’s amazing,” Bruce said. “It’s never been done at our school before and we’ve been working hard all year to get this win.”

When asked if he was on mission to carry the Royals forward, Bruce answered in his typically unselfish style. Shawn Page and Zeno Temple were among the nasty boys on the line that helped give Bruce plenty of running room.

“We thought that nobody was going to stop us, as a team,” he said. “It was a total team effort. I can’t do it without any of these guys. We just want to keep moving forward. It’s amazing to play behind a line like that. They open up the holes and they never give up on me.”

The game against the 11th-seeded Indians (7-4) turned out as anticipated. This was a shootout, and in a lot of ways came down to a battle of attrition between Bruce and C.R. North quarterback Brandon McIlwain, who showed why he is going to South Carolina as one of the top quarterback recruits in the nation.

Ranked sixth among QB prospects by and built like a young Cam Newton, McIlwain was a machine. He totaled five touchdowns, four on the ground and one via an 86-yard kick return. He amassed 230 yards rushing, and hurt the Royals with a slew of big gains, but the Upper Darby defensive secondary kept the Division I-bound McIlwain in check … as crazy as that might seem.

Despite his Superman effort running the ball, McIlwain was just 6-of-21 for 76 yards and two interceptions. Upper Darby defensive backs Calvin Fielding and Naiqjuan McKenzie each had a pick.

The Royals (10-1) thought if they could limit the damage through the air, they would win the game.

“He’s a great quarterback, but on film, we saw that he likes to eye one receiver and he likes to chuck it up,” said Fielding, a safety who was one of three spies the Royals kept on McIlwain most of the night. “Usually Coach would keep me on the best receivers, but we know that the quarterback is a great athlete. I did the best I could. He still went off a little bit.”

McIlwain put the Indians on the board with a 65-yard scoring scamper in the first quarter, but the Royals answered. UD quarterback Christoff Minott (102 yards rushing, 121 passing) scrambled 12 yards to convert a fourth-and-10 late in the second quarter. That set up Bruce’s first of seven touchdown runs to tie things up at 7-7.

After McIlwain found the end zone again to make it 14-7, Brandon Morton hauled in a 19-yard reception and Bruce darted 19 yards to paydirt to knot the score again. Chris Anderson drilled a 33-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter to put Upper Darby ahead, 17-14.

Upper Darby's Justin Durbin, right, runs away from Council Rock North defenders Thomas Hewitt, center, and Seth Leuz Friday during Upper Darby's playoff win.
Upper Darby’s Justin Durbin, right, runs away from Council Rock North defenders Thomas Hewitt, center, and Seth Leuz Friday during Upper Darby’s playoff win.

All hell broke loose in the third quarter, and it started when the Royals failed to recover the opening kick. It took McIlwain two snaps to make it hurt, as his 18-yard scamper put the Indians back in front, 20-17.

But it was the last time C.R. North would have the lead. It was the Isaiah Bruce show the rest of the night.

“We made the comment that if we could keep them around 21 to 28 points, we would win,” Gentile said. “I didn’t think they could stop us and when you give the ball to Isaiah, he’s a man playing amongst boys. Here’s the other thing: He gives credit to everybody else and all the linemen love him for it. When you’re a lineman, you don’t get much recognition. But if you know that if I just step the right way, get my hands on this kid and move him two yards within the seam … he’s gone. And they love to watch him run.”

Bruce gave the Royals the lead to stay with a 9-yard run midway through the third quarter. After McKenzie’s interception, Bruce went back to work, dashing 21 yards to the end zone to make it 38-20. Scott Mellet added a touchdown run and Bruce notched his school-record seventh touchdown with 2:50 to go.

The Royals outgained the Indians, 568-320.

Now it’s on to next week to face an Upper Dublin team that manhandled Garnet Valley, another challenge the Royals plan to attack head on.

“It’s definitely exciting,” Bruce said. “I think we’re the team that can do it.”

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