Haverford’s Jai Thornton, right, who rushed for 69 yards on 16 carries, bulls forward while Upper Darby’s Nick Rotandi attempts to strip the
Haverford's Jai Thornton, right, who rushed for 69 yards on 16 carries, bulls forward while Upper Darby's Nick Rotandi attempts to strip the ball Thursday. (Julia Wilkinson)

By HARRY CHAYKUN

Special to the Times

HAVERFORD — Joe Gallagher spent the weekend after Labor Day trying to figure out how his Haverford High football team could have an 0-2 record.

Thursday afternoon, Gallagher had a lot easier time recalling the way the season concluded after his Fords earned their fourth consecutive Thanksgiving Day win over Upper Darby, a 31-13 decision that gave Haverford a 9-3 record while dropping the Royals to 8-4. Upper Darby owns a 44-42 advantage in the overall series, in which six games have ended in a tie.

"We had pretty high expectations around here last summer,' Gallagher said. "Then we're up on Penncrest in the fourth quarter, 21-6, and we lost.

Upper Darby’s Justin Vendetti, left, uses a stiff-arm to fend of an attempted tackle by Haverford’s James McWilliams during Thursday’s
Upper Darby's Justin Vendetti, left, uses a stiff-arm to fend of an attempted tackle by Haverford's James McWilliams during Thursday's game. McWilliams and the Fords rolled to a 31-13 victory in the 92nd renewal of the Thanksgiving Day rivalry. (Julia Wilkinson)

"Now we're standing here today after we won nine of 10 games, with big comeback wins over Conestoga and Ridley. It's unbelievable. It says so much about the character and motivation of these players. We had a sophomore (Jack Donaghy) at quarterback and he just kept getting better and better. (Jai) Thornton, (Chris) Lyons and (Alex) Drum all got some yards today, the defense did a great job and this is a big win for us.'

Lyons (31 yards on seven carries), Thornton (16 carries, 69 yards) and Drum (74 yards on six rushes) each had a scoring run, and Donaghy tossed a 22-yard TD pass to Lyons for the first six points.

The Fords scored three touchdowns in the second quarter, then bounced back after a pair of Royals scores as Drum's long TD dash came 19 seconds after the second Chris Rossiter-to-De'Andre Pendergrass TD strike.

Haverford opened the scoring after falling on a muffed punt at the UD 22, with Donaghy's second-down toss to Lyons covering the 22 yards to the end zone. Sophomore Evan Boyce booted the first of his four extra points.

Six plays later, Thornton picked off a Rossiter pass at the Upper Darby 42. After he took a Donaghy toss 26 yards to the 16, Thornton covered the remaining yardage on two carries.

"We talked about this game all week,' Thornton said. "They came over here talking a lot, but we just tried to think about playing football.

"It's a lot realizing that this was the last time we would play together on this field.'

The next Haverford possession included a 26-yard pass from Donaghy to James McWilliams to the Royals 1. After Thornton lost a yard, Lyons bulled over to put the home team ahead by three touchdowns.

"The touchdown pass I caught, I saw Jack scrambling,' Lyons said. "I knew if he could put the ball out there, I'd get it.

"The touchdown run gave us a bigger lead. That's what we wanted, to get after them when we had the opportunities.'

Rossiter took his team 64 yards in 11 plays, with his first scoring pass to Pendergrass going for 10 yards 35 seconds before halftime.

Upper Darby needed only three plays to get on the board again in the third quarter. Pendergrass cut toward the middle, Rossiter put the ball in his hands, and the race to the goal line was on, with the runner in the purple shirt getting there first.

While the Royals fans continued to celebrate, Drum and the Haverford offense brought the home team fans to life. Donaghy handed the ball to the 5-11, 245-pounder, who headed around left end. As Drum picked up blocks, he shed a tackler and made it all the way to the end zone.

"That came when we really needed it,' said Drum, who was very excited about the fact that his class did not lose a Thanksgiving Day game in four years. "I know that all the yards that Jai, Chris and I wouldn't have been possible without our offensive line.

"We had a rough start this season, but we really came on over the last eight or nine games.'

In the fourth quarter, Upper Darby had only two possessions. The first yielded no yards, including a sack of Rossiter by junior Kevin Maloney, and the second included a pair of Rossiter completions before the Royals lost a fumble for the third time, with junior Mike Chicano in the middle of another big defensive stand.

Many of the Fords stayed on A.G Cornog Field long after the final whistle, posing for pictures and exchanging greetings with their coaches.

"This is what it's all about,' a happy Gallagher said.