MEADVILLE — The ghosts of Maplewood’s playoff pasts can finally be put to bed, as the Tigers accomplished something that only one other team in school history was able to achieve; play in a District 10 Championship Game.
With a 36-0 blanking of the Reynolds Raiders on Friday at Bender Field in the district semifinals, Maplewood avenged last season’s heartbreaking playoff loss and earned a spot in the District 10 Class 1A Championship Game, joining only the 1994 Tigers to have reached that far in the postseason.
Maplewood quarterback JD McFadden threw for a touchdown, ran for another and tallied 270 passing yards, the second-highest single-game total he’s posted in his career. Kaleb Donor broke the Tigers’ single-season rushing record, while Jesse McFadden recorded the first 100-plus yard rushing game of his career and reached the end zone twice.
“We’ve been to the playoffs six times now (in my tenure) and to finally get (a win), feels good,” Maplewood coach Bryan Borkovich said. “For only being the second (postseason) win in Maplewood history, it’s good for these guys. I’m glad they keep making their mark as a team.”
The Tigers quickly jumped ahead on their first series of the game, as JD McFadden found Clay Cox on a pass down the far sideline for 81 yards on a 3rd-and-20 play less than three minutes into the game for first score. McFadden then ran in the two-pointer to put the Tigers up, 8-0, and they never trailed from there on. Later in the first quarter, Jesse McFadden scored the first of his two touchdowns on a 16-yard run, with Cox netting the two-pointer.
Meanwhile, the Tigers defense did what it did four times during the regular season — preventing the opponent from crossing the goal line. Reynolds did move the chains inside the Maplewood 10-yard line twice during the contest, but were unable to overcome a taut Tigers defense.
Maplewood’s Matt Niedbala sacked Reynolds quarterback Bryce McCloskey for a 12-yard loss on a 4th-and 9 play at the Tigers 21 yard line late in the first quarter to end that series. At the beginning of the second period, a 4th-and-2 play from five yards away from the goal line fell short when stopped at the line of scrimmage by an ambush of Tigers.
By the end of the night, Maplewood recorded turnovers on three of Reynolds’ seven fumbles, and the Tigers kept the Raider offense under 100 total yards, at 97. Austin Votee recorded a sack and fumble recovery, Joey King added a sack and JD McFadden and Jesse McFadden also logged fumble recoveries.
“The defense played really well,” Borkovich said. “We knew what they were going to do. It’s tough to defend because their lineman get after it, and their running backs are extra good. I was just happy that we flew around and tackled really well, which I think was the key.”
Maplewood metaphorically drove the nail into the Raiders’ coffin halfway through the third quarter on a broken play that ended beautifully. On 2nd-and-6 at their own 21, there was some miscommunication between the players and coaches, and the Tigers were lined up incorrectly at the line of scrimmage. Rather than calling a timeout, Borkovich let his offense sort things out, and the result couldn’t have been better. Jesse McFadden sprinted for a 79-yard score that put the Tigers ahead, 22-0, with just 5:54 left in the period.
“I heard (coach Borkovich) wrong from the sideline, and (the formation) was all messed up,” JD McFadden said. “I told Jesse to just get beside me and that I was going to hand him the ball. I have confidence in him, even if the whole play is messed up. He’s a big playmaker.”
Donor and JD McFadden tacked on some insurance with 1-yard plunges across the goal line, and a pass from JD McFadden to Clay Cox on the two-point try for the latter score sealed the Tigers’ 36-0 victory.
“It feels better than winning the region, to get something like this done, especially making it not my last game,” JD McFadden said.
On Maplewood’s first offensive play of the second quarter, Donor, who needed 11 yards coming into the contest to break Steve Cox’s 1993 school record of 1,556 rushing yards, eclipsed the mark with a 6-yard run. Donor unofficially finished with 50 yards on the ground, which would put him at 1,595 rushing yards on the season.
“That’s been a goal since I walked into the gym at the high school,” Donor said. “I said that I was going to put my name up (on the banner) and beat that record. I told Steve Cox that, and he said that he wanted me to beat it.”
Maplewood (10-0) will play in their first District 10 Championship game in 25 years against the Farrell Steelers (9-2) at a date, site and time to be announced. Farrell beat West Middlesex in Friday’s second semifinal, 42-0, for their ninth straight victory, and are the defending PIAA Class 1A champions after defeating Lackawanna Trail in the state title game last December by a 55-20 margin.
“That was always the goal,” Borkovich said of getting to the district title game. “We knew Farrell was going to be there. There’s no mistaking who Farrell is. We respect them, but we have to come out and see what we can do. As long as we’re not intimidated, I’m excited and looking forward to it.”