WEST MIDDLESEX — Maplewood has had the knack for the big play throughout the early portions of the 2019 season, and the Tigers were able to create a few more of them on Friday to overcome a sloppy first half and beat the West Middlesex Big Reds, 39-12, in a non-region battle of two unbeaten teams.
During the first 24 minutes of action, Maplewood’s troubles snapping the football foiled one drive and almost spoiled another. Add in a mix of pass attempts in which the Tigers were not in sync with each other, and the recipe for a let down was potentially brewing. However, the Tigers recovered and used the big play to take control of the contest in the second half.
JD McFadden ran for 175 yards on nine carries, including runs of 34, 58 and 56 yards — the latter going for six points. Kaleb Donor ran for two scores of his own and totaled 128 yards on 10 rushes as the Maplewood offense gained 411 yards throughout the night. A key 52-yard interception return for a touchdown by Jesse McFadden in the fourth quarter helped seal the deal, as the Tigers head into homecoming weekend with an unblemished record.
“I don’t know how focused we were coming down,” Maplewood coach Bryan Borkovich said. “I think a little bit of it is that this group is always confident, not overconfident, but they weren’t where they needed to be. We know what we are capable of. We just have to make sure that we are focused all of the time.”
One could argue that the focus of the Tigers was not up to their usual standards.
Maplewood (3-0 overall, 1-0 Region 2) got the ball first at their own 35-yard line and drove it into the red zone against the West Middlesex (2-1 overall, 0-0 Region 1) defense. However, the first of two bad snaps on the evening allowed the Big Reds to take over possession when Ian Smith recovered the loose pigskin.
West Middlesex was unable to move the chains on their first shot, thanks in part to a sack on third down by Bryan Kelly and Joey King. When the Tigers got the ball back, two consecutive false start penalties thwarted Maplewood’s second drive.
After another three-and-out by the Maplewood defense, the Tigers offense finally got some momentum on a 10-play, 88-yard drive for the first points of the game. JD McFadden’s 34-yard dash down the left sideline helped set up the Tigers with their first 1st-and-goal chance of the game. Following another false start, Donor rushed for the first of his two scores from seven yards out. Connor Palmiero converted the point-after and the Tigers led, 7-0, with 1:22 remaining in the first quarter.
Maplewood’s defense, which began the season with nine straight scoreless periods, continued to shine in the second quarter. Lucas Kennedy intercepted Ty Tate’s pass attempt on 2nd-and-2 from the Maplewood 46-yard line. The Tiger offense capitalized on that turnover five plays later when JD McFadden scrambled for a 10-yard score and Palmiero nailed his second straight PAT at the 9:56 mark.
Following an exchange of punts, the West Middlesex offense put the first points of the season up against the Tigers defense with a 7-play, 48-yard series. Smith rushed for a 3-yard touchdown with under a minute left in the half to cut the Big Reds’ deficit to 14-6 heading into the intermission.
In the second half, Maplewood and West Middlesex were unable to move the chains on their first respective drives. The Big Reds got within two points of the Tigers on their second chance when West Middlesex took a shot at the end zone on 4th-and-6 from 12 yards out. Tate found Alex Rea on a perfectly placed floater near the corner of the end zone to make it a 14-12 contest, still in Maplewood’s favor.
With the lead dwindling, Maplewood was in need of one of their patented big plays.
Fortunately for the Tigers, it only took one snap to get the momentum back on their sideline. JD McFadden found daylight on a 56-yard keeper and sprinted across the goal line for six points. The four-year quarterback attributed his team’s ability to gain large chunks of yardage to being well-balanced.
“We have a variety of weapons on offense,” JD McFadden said. “They think we’re going to pass it and then we run it, and vice versa. It’s great to have that kind of offense. That’s how we win.”
With the game still in reach, West Middlesex took over and quickly moved the football into Maplewood territory thanks in part to a conversion on 4th-and-3 when Tate hit Eddie Lowe for a 10-yard gain to move the chains to the 35-yard line. However, back-to-back penalties against the offense and a sack by Jesse McFadden forced the Big Reds to punt.
Set up to boot the ball away on 4th-and-18 at the Maplewood 43, the West Middlesex center sent the snap over the head of Tate, who was back to punt. Tate recovered the ball and quickly threw it down field.
Maplewood freshmen Ben Gilberto crashed toward the ball and attempted to haul in the interception, but the ball was knocked out of his hands by a West Middlesex player. Luckily, the pigskin bounced right into the hands of nearby Jesse McFadden, who promptly ran 52 yards to the Tiger end zone — giving Maplewood a 26-12 advantage with only 11:43 left to play.
“I turned around because I saw (Tate) was going to pass it,” Jesse McFadden recalled. “I saw Ben there, hoping he would intercept it, and then I watched him get hit hard. The ball flew right up into my hands, and I ran it back. It was a pretty big play because it got us hyped.”
The hype created by West Middlesex’s second turnover of the night helped Maplewood close the door on any shot of a Big Reds comeback.
The Maplewood defense did not surrender any more points the remainder of the game, while the offense added some insurance. JD McFadden found Levi Butryn on an 11-yard touchdown pass, and Donor sprinted 95 yards for the final score of Maplewood’s 39-12 victory.
“We came in here trying to figure out where we were this year, and I think we all have high hopes now,” JD McFadden said. “We know where we are out, and we’re a quality team.”
With their first big test of the way, Maplewood will prepare to host Cambridge Springs next week for the Tigers’ second region game of the season on homecoming weekend.
Maplewood 7 7 6 19—39
West Middlesex 0 6 6 0—12
M — Kaleb Donor 7-yard run (Connor Palmiero kick), 1:22.
M — JD McFadden 10-yard run (Palmiero kick), 9:56.
WM — Ian Smith 3-yard run (kick blocked), 0:48.
WM — Alex Rea 12-yard pass from Ty Tate (run failed), 5:36.
M — JD McFadden 56-yard run (kick blocked), 5:17.
M — Jesse McFadden 52-yard interception return (kick blocked), 11:43.
M — Levi Butryn 11-yard pass from JD McFadden (Palmiero kick), 8:15.
M — Donor 95-yard run (kick failed), 5:54.
PASSING — M, JD McFadden 8-18, 97 yards, 1 TD. WM, Tate 3-13, 27 yards, 2 INTs.
RUSHING — M, JD McFadden 9-175, 2 TDs; Donor 10-128, 2 TDs; Jesse McFadden 3-28; TEAM 2-(-17). WM, Smith 18-74, 1 TD; Zeb Rubaker 15-61; Jason Davis 5-21; Rea 2-14; Tate 8-11.
RECEIVING — M, Jesse McFadden 5-69; Clay Cox 2-17; Butryn 1-11, 1 TD. WM, Rea 1-12, 1 TD; Eddie Lowe 1-10; Justin O’Neill 1-5.