All season long, Haverford High coach Joe Gallagher brought his black-and-red Central League championship football jacket from 1995 to practices.
"It was to remind the kids of what we wanted to accomplish this season," Gallagher said. "We had come close several times recently, but didn't get there. It was time not to just come close."
The Fords achieved their goal of winning the program's first league crown in two decades by beating neighboring Upper Darby, 49-42, in a wild and thrilling Thanksgiving Day contest before 5,000-plus at A.G. Cornog Field.
"We knew this was going to a be a dogfight between two heavyweights, and that it would probably come down to the fourth quarter," Haverford senior quarterback Jack Donaghy said. "That's exactly what happened."
On a draw play with 19 seconds to go, Donaghy's 19-yard touchdown run lifted the Fords (10-2, 8-0) to their sixth overall league title. "The intention actually was to set up a winning field goal," Gallagher said.
The decisive tally was set up by defensive back Ethan Samel's fumble recovery and 39-yard return to the Royals' 13. A 6-yard loss and an incomplete pass preceded Donaghy's triumphant dash.
Donaghy, a third-year starter, completed 15 of 29 passes for 305 yards and five touchdowns. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound dynamo closed his career with 5,294 passing yards.
"He's something," Gallagher said. "That type of kid only comes around once in a while. It's not very common."
After Haverford jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first five minutes and then had it erased, Donaghy fired three second-quarter TD passes to put the hosts comfortably ahead, 35-14. Upper Darby (10-3, 7-1) cut the gap to 14 on Christoff Minott's 21-yard toss to Brandon Morton on the last play before the break.
Buoyed by Minott and senior workhorse Isaiah Bruce, who carried 36 times for 219 yards and two scores, the Royals, who fell just short of their first league crown since 1967, found pay dirt twice in the third quarter to even things.
Tyheim Dodson's interception at the Haverford 44 set up a 7-yard run by Bruce that gave the penalty-plagued Royals a 42-35 lead with 3:57 to go.
The Fords drew even with a seven-play, 60-yard drive that was capped by Donaghy's 15-yard throw to Matt Corbett. Two plays earlier, on fourth and 10, Donaghy found Chris Trainor for a 16-yard gain.
Haverford now leads the all-time series, 45-43-6.
Upper Darby 7 14 14 7 - 42
Haverford High 14 21 0 14 - 49
H: Chris Trainor 34 pass from Jack Donaghy (Evan Boyce kick)
H: Karim Bernard 43 pass from Donaghy (Boyce kick)
UD: Brandon Morton 34 pass from Christoff Minott (Derrick Korboi kick)
UD: Minott 10 run (Chris Anderson kick)
H: Bernard 6 pass from Donaghy (Boyce kick)
H: Bobby McClure 21 pass from Donaghy (Boyce kick)
H: Donaghy 2 run (Boyce kick)
UD: Morton 31 pass from Minott (Anderson kick)
UD: Isaiah Bruce 1 run (Anderson kick)
UD: Minott 1 run (Anderson kick)
UD: Bruce 7 run (Anderson kick)
H: Matt Corbett 15 pass from Donaghy (Boyce kick)
H: Donaghy 19 run (Boyce kick)