UPPER DARBY — Rory Bellwoar and his Upper Darby teammates had put the finishing touches on a 41-0 Central League dismantling of Strath Haven some 15 minutes earlier Friday night, but the mostly pink-clad student section that cranked up the volume all night was still buzzing.
Bellwoar, a senior defensive back, has never seen anything like this in his four years as a Royal. It's easier to walk through the halls of the most populated school in Delco with your chest puffed out and your head up when your team is shedding a less-than-flattering reputation with every win it strings together. Twelve wins in the past three seasons didn't do the Royals any favors, but with a 6-2 mark, including a 5-1 record in league play and five straight wins, it's not hard to see why the Upper Darby faithful have been, well, more faithful this year.
"It's awesome,' said Bellwoar, who spearheaded a defensive unit that ceded a mere 108 yards to the Panthers (2-6, 1-6). "It's just the best feeling to have a winning season with your friends that you've been playing with since weight ball. It's a great feeling.'
An even better feeling would be making the District One Class AAAA playoffs. Even better? The Royals control their fate and shouldn't have to ask anyone for help. Remaining games with Conestoga and Penncrest loom, teams who boast a combined 13-3 mark. But if Upper Darby can navigate that stretch, the Royals would be playoff-bound for the first time since 2007.
"It's our top goal right now,' Bellwoar said. "We're just looking one game at a time, but that's our top goal right now. It was our goal throughout the whole season and when we took the loss to Glen Mills, we all came together the next morning and set goals. Playoffs was the top and every game is a playoff game for us. ... We're just going to keep rolling.'
Much like the Royals rolled against the Panthers. Jack-of-all-trades Chris Rossiter completed seven of his eight passes for 78 yards, one touchdown apiece to Justin Venditti and DeAndre Pendergrass, and scampered for 104 yards on merely six carries.
Oh, and the senior signal-caller isn't just a dual-threat. He's a quad-threat athlete. Rossiter booted extra points on five of six touchdowns and also handled kickoffs, but at last check, was not tasked with keeping the Upper Darby water coolers full or operating the concession stand at halftime.
Probably not, anyway.
"It's awesome,' Rossiter said of the atmosphere for the Royals' Senior Night. "People are going to talk about this forever, hopefully getting into the playoffs. They talk about playoff teams all the time, so hopefully it's the same way. This school would light up. It would be crazy.'
Rossiter's versatility isn't lost on Royals boss Rich Gentile, either. As a junior, Rossiter bounced back after losing the quarterback battle to Nii Kotei Nikoi and moved to slot receiver while also playing safety and handling kick duties, but a broken collarbone cost him a month of action. Being under center as opposed to in the slot carries more responsibility, but that's something he's willing to handle if it means leading his Royals into the postseason.
"It's not that bad,' Rossiter added with a broad smile. "It's just coming to practice every day, working hard and paying attention. I did a lot of that last year, except for the quarterback part. But I played offense, defense and all that. You get a little more attention (at quarterback).'
Lawrence Bowden (81 yards on seven carries) and Cyrus Barlee (54 yards on 10 totes) also had strong nights on the ground for the Royals, while Venditti (46 yards) and Pendergrass (25 yards) each had a pair of receptions. On the other sideline, though, it was just another frustrating step marking the sudden decline of one of Delco's most storied programs.
Panthers coach Kevin Clancy's Wing-T offense was only able to muster 98 yards on 38 carries, a scant 2.6 yards per rush, and couldn't piece together a strong passing attack against Delco's stingiest secondary. First-year starter Bryan Mizell, playing without injured offensive linemen Grant Sammel and Anthony Semeraro, put forth a game effort with his team-high 37 yards on five carries, but three lost fumbles didn't help the Panthers' cause.
"With the way the season's been going, it would be real easy for us to just give up, turn over, lay on the ground and just give up,' said Mizell, who also dropped a 45-yard punt at the Upper Darby 1-yard line. "But there's a bunch of us that have been on everyone, been on each other to keep our heads up. We've really been about the family aspect of it this year. Staying together, pick guys up when they're done and fight until the end.'
For Strath Haven, that end will come Nov. 1 against Radnor, but for Upper Darby, the season might be just getting started.