MEADVILLE — Maplewood’s bid for the first District 10 Football Championship in school history just fell short as the Tigers were defeated by the Farrell Steelers, 35-20, in Friday’s Class 1A title bout at Bender Field in Meadville.
For those wondering if the Tigers were going to be intimidated in facing the 2018 PIAA Class 1A state champions and four-time defending district champions, or by playing on a stage that the Maplewood program has only stepped on once prior to Friday night, they weren’t. Maplewood gave Farrell almost more than it could handle, and had a slim 20-19 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
However, a key turnover committed by the Tigers on a fumble in Farrell territory in the fourth quarter gave the Steelers the opening they needed to avert what would have been one of the biggest upsets in recent memory. Farrell finished like district champions with a 16-0 fourth quarter, and earned the right to advance to the PIAA Class 1A Tournament next week.
“I’m proud of the guys and proud of the seniors,” Maplewood coach Bryan Borkovich said. “It shows how far we’ve come. We were right there, and had the lead going into the fourth. I’m super proud of them. This is what happens in close games sometimes. You can’t overcome certain things, but I’m still proud of the way we played.”
In a matchup that featured two of the stingiest defenses in the entire district, the Farrell running attack and Maplewood passing game were difficult for the opposition to contain.
Farrell totaled 474 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, as Anthony Stallworth did the majority of the damage with his 249 yards and two scores. Steelers quarterback Ray Raver also eclipsed the century mark with 128 yards and two touchdowns. Borkovich believed his team didn’t tackle as well as he would have liked, with many players diving at the ball carriers rather than hitting them high.
“We talked about it all week that we have to tackle well, and we didn’t tonight,” Borkovich said. “It’s not from lack of effort. They just have some good players. You’re playing faster guys, so you can tackle them a little bit higher, so you make sure you at least get a piece of them. When you’re diving and completely missing, you’re not going to effect it at all. We should have tackled better, and can’t just dive at them.”
Meanwhile, Maplewood quarterback JD McFadden was 12 of 20 passing for 269 yards and a touchdown. Jesse McFadden hauled in eight of those passes for 182 yards and the lone touchdown. Kaleb Donor also scored twice on short runs of 11 and 8 yards.
Even so, Maplewood (10-1) stood toe to toe with Farrell (10-2) and essentially matched them point for point through three quarters.
The Tigers took the opening kickoff all the way to the Farrell 26 yard line. Even though Maplewood would commit the first of two turnovers via the fumble two plays later, the Tigers carried themselves like they belonged on the same field. Farrell turned the takeaway into six points a couple of plays later when Jaden Harrison sprinted for a 52-yard touchdown for the game’s first points. Brian Hilton tacked on the extra point and the Steelers led 7-0 with 8:32 left in the first quarter.
However, Maplewood immediately responded by posting the first points that the Farrell defense allowed since the second week of the regular season. JD McFadden found Jesse McFadden for a 48-yard strike on the first play of the series. Kaleb Donor then followed an 8-yard run with an 11-yard jaunt to the end zone. The two-pointer would not cross the goal line, but the Tigers trailed by just one point heading into the second quarter.
Both teams would reach the end zone once during the second canto. Raver scored on a 6-yard keeper to allow Farrell to regain the lead before the McFadden connection was rekindled on a 3-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds left before halftime.
“He’s always a guy I can count on; running his routes, criss-crossing, catching the ball no matter where he’s at,” JD McFadden said of Jesse. “I’m definitely going to miss throwing the ball to him.”
Coming out for the second half, Farrell began the opening series and their own 42, and took the ball into Maplewood territory. On 3rd-and-5 at the Tiger 43, JD McFadden made a key play by sacking Raver for a 7-yard loss and forcing the Steelers to punt.
On the ensuing drive, Maplewood would complete a 13-play, 83-yard drive that would give the Tigers their first lead of the night. JD McFadden converted two third downs on the series with his legs, and Maplewood chewed up more than six minutes off the game clock. Donor’s second touchdown rush of the night, this one from 8 yards out, and the two-point conversion on a pass from JD McFadden to Jesse McFadden, gave the Tigers a 20-13 lead.
Unfortunately, it would be the final time Maplewood would reach the end zone during the contest. Farrell responded with a 6-play, 68-yard series that was capped off by a 6-yard scramble by Raver with 0:05 remaining in the third quarter. The Tigers were able to block the extra-point attempt by Hilton that would have knotted the score, and Maplewood took its 20-19 advantage into the final period of regulation.
Maplewood started the ensuing drive with a quick 16-yard strike through the air from JD McFadden to Jesse McFadden that moved the chains. Two plays later, Maplewood fumbled the ball on 2nd-and-8 from the Farrell 42 yard line, when the Tigers were fighting for extra yards near the end of the play, and the Steelers recovered. Once again, Farrell made Maplewood pay for the turnover and the Steelers scored a few minutes later on a 3-yard run by Stallworth to regain the lead for good.
“The way their defense plays and how fast they flow; there are holes there, but they just close so fast,” Borkovich said. “We told our guys to take what you can get because you were not going to jump or cut around them. That was a good drive at the end of the third quarter to go and take the lead. We hold onto the ball in the fourth quarter, and we score again, it would have been interesting. It is what it is and you just move on.”
Stallworth capped off the scoring with a 59-yard touchdown run with six minutes left on the clock to essentially put the game out of the reach of the Tigers.
Maplewood finishes its historic campaign with a 10-1 record, and many other accomplishments. JD McFadden broke the Crawford County passing record earlier in the season, while Kaleb Donor set a new Tigers single-season rushing record. Jesse McFadden also added his name to the record books by becoming Maplewood’s all-time receiver with more than 1,500 yards through his first two seasons. En route to making their second District 10 Championship Game in school history, the Tigers won the Region 2 title.
“Other than winning (the title), I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Borkovich said. “Everyone thought we were going to get blown out, and we came in here and had the lead going into the fourth quarter. You can’t say enough about the seniors and the whole team, including the staff.”
Friday’s contest was the final game in the Maplewood careers for Levi Butryn, Logan Churchill, Clay Cox, J Gilger, Steven Heme, JD McFadden, Bryan Kelly, Lucas Kennedy, Matt Niedbala, Austin Votee and Shawn Weigle.
“We came into this game with nothing to lose,” JD McFadden said. “We made history in the program, and we’re proud of ourselves for making it this far.”
Even with an impactful senior class departing, Borkovich believes his team can make its way back next season.
“This has got to be the expectation,” Borkovich said. “We’ve got to work hard. Those seniors set the tone on how hard you have to work. It’s going to be hard to replace (them), but these young guys have to step up. I know we can do it.”