Upper Dublin’s Stacey Gardner shines in return from injury

UPPER DUBLIN >> Upper Dublin got a familiar face back in the lineup in Friday night’s 45-14 District One Class AAAA quarterfinal win over Upper Darby: Stacey Gardner.

The senior captain missed the previous three games with a left ankle injury and made his return to the tune of nine carries for 114 yards and two touchdowns.

“It feels like I never left,” Gardner said. “We’ve all been playing together since first or second grade. I know these guys. I love these guys. We’ve known each other — we just love each other. It feels like I never left. We’re all friends. In school we’re always together. It’s like we’re always on the football field.”

The touchdowns were the first two of the day for the Cardinals.

The first came on Gardner’s second carry of the game. He took the handoff and raced right for 20 yards to the end zone to give his side the lead.

Less than four minutes later and on his very next carry, Gardner was in the end zone again. This time it was a 17-yard scamper to pay dirt.

“He brings a whole different level,” Cardinals coach Bret Stover said. “He’s a shot of adrenaline for the whole team. You get to week 11 – you get a little tired and run down. Stacey was that momentum that kind of pushed us tonight – especially when he started running the way he did. That was fun.”

“Coming back off the injury you might be a little hesitant but I tried not to think about it,” Gardner said. “It worked. I tried not to think about it. It wasn’t bothering me.”

In addition to the two scores, Gardner had a highlight-reel 41-yard run later in the first quarter to set up another Cardinals touchdown.

“We were tempted to play him last week,” Stover said. “If we really needed him to go, he probably could have gone. We just felt that – talking to our medical staff – to hold him one more week would be great and that was the smartest thing we did.”

Prior to his injury, Gardner had 30 carries for 445 yards – a 14.8 average – and nine touchdowns on the season.

“It didn’t really hit me until we got to the playoffs,” Gardner said about wanting to get back on the field. “Because the next game’s not guaranteed. I was really itching to get back, but all in all, I was just trying to help out my fellow players and teammates on the sidelines, just coaching them up.”

Gardner also helped lead a great defensive effort for Upper Dublin, but did tweak his ankle in the fourth quarter and hobbled off. Neither he nor Stover expressed concern about his availability for next week’s semifinal matchup against the Perkiomen Valley/Pennsbury winner.

A week after Upper Darby’s Isaiah Bruce ran for 337 yards and seven touchdowns, the Cardinals defense kept him in check. Bruce carried 19 times for 114 yards and two touchdowns.

Even that is deceiving. The electric runner took a 43-yard run to the house in the final minutes when Gardner was off the field. Prior to that, Gardner and the Cardinals starting defense held him to 71 yards, 61 of which came on a single carry.

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