By STEVEN LEINERT
Journal Register News Service
UPPER DARBY — Upper Darby coach Rich Gentile has learned there are certain things he can’t control during a football game.
No matter how much he or his coaching staff prepares, stuff just happens.
Despite quarterback Nii Kotei Nikoi’s 265 yards passing, the Royals turned the ball over five times en route to a 40-20 nonleague loss against Malvern Prep Friday night.
Those weren’t the only things that hindered Upper Darby’s chances at victory.
“I don’t doubt these guys’ heart in any way, shape or form, that they are trying to give me everything they have,” Gentile said. “(Stuff) happens. I was just telling the coaches, I mean I don’t know how to describe it.”
Stuff happened almost from the start for Upper Darby. On the Royals’ third offensive play, Nikoi was picked off by Malvern Prep defensive back Jordan Majors, who returned it 34 yards for the game’s first score.
Upper Darby had a chance to take the lead late in the first quarter after Nikoi hit receiver Justin Venditti for a 24-yard touchdown but the Royals’ extra point sailed wide, tying the game at 6. Again, stuff happened.
A short punt early in the second quarter allowed Malvern Prep’s quick-strike offense an opportunity to capitalize. Eric Purnell’s 38-yard run was followed by a nine-yard touchdown scamper by Connor Bohs that gave the Friars (3-2) a 13-6 lead.
On the ensuing possession, Upper Darby fumbled. It was recovered by Malvern Prep and one play later, Friars quarterback William Ford found a wide-open Troy Gallen for an 18-yard touchdown and a 19-6 lead.
“We beat ourselves,” Nikoi said. “We can move the ball on anybody. I feel as though we can do that. If we cut down on those mistakes, we’re probably up in the second half. We put our defense in bad positions. We gave them the ball inside the 50 (too many times).”
Malvern Prep seemed to seize control of the game at the start of the third quarter after Ford connected with Gallen on a 69-yard touchdown pass, his second of the game, that gave the Friars a 26-6 advantage.
“He has great hands, so we are always confident when we are throwing him the ball,” Malvern Prep coach Kevin Pellegrini said. “I know if the patterns on the sheet are going to work if we get it in his vicinity. It’s a matter of getting it there to him. He catches the ball and he can sure run. He really is a nice threat. But we still have a lot of work to do.”
However, Upper Darby marched 80 yards in nine plays capped by a 13-yard touchdown run by Cyrus Barlee that pulled the Royals within 26-13.
And on the second play of the fourth quarter, Upper Darby recovered a Malvern Prep fumble and drove down to the Friars’ five-yard line. Once again, though, the Royals’ hopes were dashed after a bad snap sailed over Nikoi’s head and amounted to a loss of 13 yards. Nikoi then threw a pass that was batted into the air and intercepted in the end zone that killed the threat.
“We have a pass play that we think is going to work and the ball is snapped over (Nikoi’s) head,” Gentile said. “That’s nothing with our center. Just (stuff) happens. And with us just recently, (stuff) happens at the wrong time. Joe McKnight from Ridley told me once, ‘There (are) no magic wands.’”
The Royals promptly gave up a 75-yard touchdown run to Malvern Prep running back Kasim Brooks, Nikoi threw another interception and Friars reserve back Brandon Gentile busted a 40-yard touchdown run and suddenly Malvern Prep led 40-13.
A late touchdown pass from Nikoi to DeAndre Pendergrass capped the scoring for Upper Darby (2-4).
“You can’t give a team like that, with their offense, the ball within our 50 and we did that a couple of times,” Rich Gentile said. “We’re going into our sixth game. That’s something we need to work on. We turned the ball over without end and you can’t do that against a good football team. Just stuff happened at the wrong time.”