GUYS MILLS — Friday’s Region 2 matchup between the Union City Bears and the Maplewood Tigers was a battle for control of the region standings — with the winner setting themselves up for a clear path to the region championship. And for three nearly quarters, both clubs played a pretty even contest.
However, Maplewood’s offense rallied for 22 points in the final 13 minutes of the affair, while the defense closed the door on any chance of an upset, as the Tigers pulled away for the 34-8 victory on their home field.
JD McFadden found six different receivers in the air on his way to going 9 of 15 passing for 239 yards and two touchdowns. Kaleb Donor continues his record-setting pace on the ground, amassing 193 yards and two scores on 15 carries, including a 97-yard touchdown that tied a school record.
Tiger coach Bryan Borkovich called the victory “huge,” and added that it was another step forward for the program.
“This is kind of where we’ve always been — in a game for first place or somewhere around there at this point in the season,” Borkovich said. “And, we’ve done terrible. This is huge for us and huge for the kids. I was kinda hoping we would take that next step.”
In a rematch of last year’s unofficial Region 2 title bout in Union City, the Tigers defense was able to limit the effectiveness of a Bears running attack that featured four different players averaging more than 6 yards per carry heading into the contest.
On Friday, Union City’s Austin Jaquith reached triple digits in yards with 134 on 19 attempts, but Maplewood held the Bears to 150 rushing yards and just 4.53 yards per carry as a team.
“It took everything we had to win tonight,” Maplewood senior defensive lineman Bryan Kelly said. “It’s just the true determination of our team that got it done. Last year was a frustrating game, so it means a lot. Hopefully, this year we can put a number up on the banner.”
Offensively, Maplewood didn’t have as many chances to score during the night — due in part to Union City aiming to chew up as much time as possible when it had possession. The Tigers had to take advantage of their chances with the ball, and they did in their first two drives. Maplewood put up two first-quarter scores on a 12-yard run by Donor and a 49-yard touchdown pass on a screen from JD McFadden to Jesse McFadden.
Borkovich was expecting that his team would have a limited number of opportunities to score coming into the contest.
“I figured that was going to be (Union City’s) plan, to slow the game down and not give us as many possessions,” Borkovich said. “That’s what I would do. We’ve tried to do that to other teams in the past. You have to make plays, and limit their runs on first down in order to make it so they can’t do that to you. I don’t think we did that enough in the first half.”
Each team only had three possessions in the first two quarters, but the Bears used up more than 16 minutes of the 24-minute half. Although Union City fumbles the pigskin four times during the opening half — one resulting in a turnover recovered by Levi Butryn — the Bears found themselves only down by four points at halftime.
In a drive that utilized the final 8:26 in the second quarter, Union City capped off a 19-play, 79-yard series with a 9-yard touchdown pass from Jaquith to Marshall VanTassel as time expired. Tallin Henry ran in the two-pointer to make it a 12-8 game at the intermission in Maplewood’s favor.
To start the third quarter, Maplewood was given a golden opportunity to add to its lead when Union City lost another fumble, this one recovered by Matt Niedbala at the Bears’ 18-yard line. However, the Tigers turned the ball over on downs and didn’t see another possession until the 3:28 mark of the third period.
This time, Maplewood was able to find the end zone. An 18-yard run by Donor and a 39-yard screen pass from JD McFadden to Donor set up a 25-yard touchdown pass from JD McFadden to Butryn to give the Tigers a 20-8 advantage heading into the fourth quarter. McFadden made a perfect throw off his back football with a Union City defender in his face to hit Butryn in the end zone right at the front pylon.
“That was huge,” Borkovich said of the score. “We were rolling that way and they brought a linebacker that we had no one to block with. Those guys that have been here longer know where to be and JD knows where they’re going to be. That trust between those two (made it happen).”
Following a three-and-out, Maplewood put the game away on Donnor’s 97-yard touchdown run, which tied Millers Peters’ program record for the longest run from scrimmage, set at Mercyhurst Prep on Oct. 3, 2013.
After Lucas Kennedy picked off Jaquith on the ensuing Union City drive, Maplewood put the game away with a 20-yard touchdown run by JD McFadden.
“It feels amazing,” Donor said of the victory and tying the school record. “I feel like the team and I are getting our names out there.”
The victory did not come without a cost for the Tigers, however. Starting lineman Logan Churchill injured his right leg during the second quarter and did not return the rest of the way, while Jesse McFadden and Jason McFadden were also battling injuries.
Even with the victory, Borkovich knows his team has work to do going forward in the season.
“We’ve got to keep pushing and we’ve got to get healthy,” Borkovich said. “I’m glad coming out from halftime we were able to find a new gear, the gear we should have been in all along.”
Maplewood (6-0 overall, 3-0 Region 2) will travel to Franklin next week in a non-region matchup, at 7 p.m.