SAEGERTOWN — Maplewood had its sights set on the school record books from the beginning of the season. The Tigers knew the current drought the program has experienced in relation to region titles and playoff victories, among notable statistics.
With a 56-0 victory in the regular season finale on the road against the Saegertown Panthers on Friday, Maplewood can put some of that pain in the past by winning the Region 2 championship outright — the program’s first league/region title since the 1994 campaign — and competing the program’s first undefeated regular season since 1985, according to the coaching staff.
“It’s something we were always trying to do,” Maplewood coach Bryan Borkovich said of winning the region title. “It’s always goal number one, so we can check that off.”
Maplewood’s offense, which finished the regular season with the third most points in the district, put points on the scoreboard in eight of its nine possessions. Kaleb Donor unofficially ran for three touchdowns and 263 yards on 21 carries, which would put him in a tie for the MHS single season rushing record with Steve Cox’s 1,556 yards compiled during the 1993 season.
JD McFadden threw for 204 yards and four touchdowns, connecting with Clay Cox for two of those scores and 143 yards. Jesse McFadden added a 13-yard touchdown run and 21-yard touchdown reception, while Jason McFadden added six points on a 25-yard grab. Connor Palmiero made four of his five extra-point attempts.
Clay Cox recorded the first 100-yard game of his career, and had at least two catches for the seventh game this season. For the senior who rejoined the team this year after taking the previous two off, he was just glad to “be part of a winning team.”
“It felt pretty good to open (the offense) up, and get a few catches,” Cox said. “It’s been a pretty easy transition. I fit into the offense pretty easily, and it’s been easy to get along with (my teammates). I didn’t have the (chemistry) that everyone else had coming into the season, so getting that was a little hard.”
Meanwhile, the Maplewood defense pitched its fourth shutout of the campaign, and finished the regular season by surrendering the fifth fewest points in District 10 heading into the postseason.
On the first Saegertown drive, Joey King and Jason McFadden earned a strip sack of starting quarterback Henry Shaffer, who left in the middle of the first quarter due to concussion-like symptoms. Although the Panthers recovered the ball, they would be forced to punt two plays later — one of their nine drives that either ended with a punt, fumble or turnover on downs.
Ben Giberto and Dylan Reed each earned a sack of backup quarterback Alex Kightlinger, who completed two of his seven passes for 15 yards in relief of Shaffer. Greg Roae and Jesse McFadden also recorded tackles for losses, while King added two pass deflections at the line of scrimmage.
“It meant a lot to win the region, since we haven’t done that since 1994,” King said. “To end on a good note with the shutout, it just shows the work ethic that we have. All the time in practice, lifting every day in the offseason, all the hard work pays off.”
Maplewood (9-0 overall, 5-0 Region 2) will head to the District 10 playoffs with the top seed out of Region 2, but the Tigers have to wait until District 10 releases the postseason brackets to find out who they will face.
No matter the opponent, Maplewood will be searching for the program’s first postseason victory since 1993. Borkovich, who is 0-5 in playoff contests in his tenure, knows that a perfect regular season and the region title are just the tip of the iceberg as to what his Tigers want to accomplish.
“It’s playoff time now, so, we’re 9-0, but really everyone is 0-0,” Borkovich said. “We just have to get ready mentally, heal up, and get ready for who we are going to play. The next goal we have is to get a playoff win, and then, hopefully, after that is the District 10 championship. You go undefeated, that’s great. But, you lose in the playoffs, then you’re just another northern team that had a decent year. It’s definitely not enough with this group. They’ve put the time in.”