FALLS — Chris Rossiter's face said it all, the pain emanating from a 55-20 loss to Pennsbury in the first round of the District One Class AAAA tournament evident.
After Rossiter and his Upper Darby teammates initially went blow-for-blow with the Falcons, Pennsbury pretty much did whatever it wanted offensively. The No. 3 Falcons blazed their way to 549 rushing yards on 57 carries, plus a tidy 67 yards on two passes, and proved to be too much for the feisty Royals. Pennsbury advances to next week's quarterfinal against No. 11 North Penn, a 31-0 winner over defending district champ Coatesville.
But while looking around at the beat-up grass and his teammates dejectedly walking toward the team bus, Rossiter took a second to take it all in and remembered just how much his team had defied expectations. Or, as his coach, Rich Gentile, later added ...
"You have to put things into perspective,' said the veteran Royals boss. "When we went into this season, the coaches' goal was to have a winning season. To stop the losing and have a winning season. That's all that we wanted. We got a lot more than that. We got a team that made the playoffs, that had a seven-game winning streak ... and that brought Upper Darby football back.'
Yes, Pennsbury (10-1) really was that much better than No. 14 Upper Darby, but true to form, Rossiter and company battled and battled until the clock finally hit zeroes. At the heart of it all was the do-it-all quarterback/defensive back/punter/kicker/maybe part-time waterboy and bus driver, who was, simply put, spectacular.
The final stat lines were impressive enough. Three touchdown tosses — one each to Kevin White, DeAndre Pendergrass and Justin Venditti — highlighted Rossiter's 8-for-17, 160-yard, no-interception passing day. That's before 85 yards on 14 carries were factored in, but it was really how Rossiter did his thing that amazed.
Facing a 7-0 deficit one play from scrimmage into the game after a Breon Clark scamper to the end zone, Rossiter got to work. Staring down third-and-13 from the Falcons' 22, he connected with White, who had completely separated from his man on a flag route, for the score. Later, Rossiter reached into his Houdini bag of tricks on fourth-and-7 from the Pennsbury 39, he escaped from a pair of sure-fire sacks, started to scramble, realized he wouldn't get the first down, then pulled up and zipped a laser to a wide-open Pendergrass for the TD.
"I scrambled out,' Rossiter said, "and I saw the kid coming at me. I knew I couldn't get the first down and then I saw De'Andre jumping up, waving his hands, so I just chucked it. I was just trying to make plays. I was just fortunate that nobody was around.'
Gentile was a little bit more impressed with his star's performance.
"He is the best player, all-around, — I've had better athletes, but including everything — that I've ever coached,' Gentile said. "That includes (former NFL and CFL linebacker) Simoni (Lawrence), and I'm not taking anything away from Simoni. He's a great player. But Rossiter, everything that involves being a leader, being a player and what he does on the field, he does everything.'
From there, though, it was all downhill for Upper Darby (8-3). A pair of short Ronquay Smith touchdowns sandwiched a 31-yard scoring gallop from Charles Snorweah, and even though Venditti's 55-yard catch-and-run brought things close, Smith, Snorweah and Raheem Thompson added touchdowns to ice the game.
"We knew they had a pretty solid defense going in,' said Snorweah, who finished the night with a tidy 222 yards on a mere 17 carries. "We respected them. Did I expect to score 55? I'm not sure, but I did expect our offense to come out flying and moving the ball fast the way we normally do.'
Well, yeah, that wasn't too bad, especially since the Falcons didn't do anything too tricky. Snorweah made his money on sweeps, repeatedly gashing the Royals on the outside, and Thompson (10 carries for 73 yards) and Smith (19 for 153) handled most of the inside running.
"Obviously, they're a better team than we are,' Gentile said. "That might be the best Wing I've seen run ever and that means any of the Strath Haven teams that won the state title. They were very good and we absolutely could not stop them.'
Upper Darby still has a game left, its annual Thanksgiving affair with neighborhood rival Haverford, so perhaps that will offer a more fitting ending to an illustrious season. Regardless, the effect that this year's Royals team had on the culture of Upper Darby football cannot be overlooked. The Royals have had a reputation for having talent, but perhaps never fulfilling their potential. This team declined to roll over after a 1-2 start, ripping off those seven straight Ws and qualifying for the playoffs. That doesn't happen too often.
"Playoffs were always the goal,' Rossiter said, "but you would never think that they would actually come true. No matter what the score was (Friday), it doesn't reflect our season at all because we had an unbelievable season and we had no regrets. It's awesome. I mean, you can see it. People took an hour drive and our stands were pretty full. It meant a lot to our school.'
That is, without a doubt, impossible to deny.