UNION CITY — Demons of the past were somewhat exorcised on Friday night for the Maplewood Tigers football team. After coming into their matchup against the Union City Bears with some disappointing losses on the season and in the past at the Bears’ Den, Maplewood got back to business and finished off the 2020 campaign with a 30-14 non-region victory.
Union City had previously won three of the four matches played at the Bears’ home field since Maplewood head coach Bryan Borkovich took over the Tiger program in 2012. Couple that with a pair of losses to the 2020 Region 4 champion Northwestern Wildcats this season by a combined four points, and two additional defeats to Saegertown and Cambridge Springs, Maplewood was thrilled to cap off its season by having late success on the ground that Tiger fans had become accustomed to seeing during the 2019 D-10 Final run.
“That’s what we’re capable of,” Borkovich said of the victory. “All year it’s been up and down with not having a traditional quarterback and filling in guys on the offensive line. Still, I knew what we had here.”
Kaleb Donor scored all four of Maplewood’s touchdowns in the second half on the ground. The senior tailback reached the end zone on carries of 5, 9, 77 and 22 yards out and finished with 145 yards overall in the final game of his high school career. Jesse McFadden added 98 rushing yards out of the pocket, as the Tigers totaled 231 rushing yards and 6.08 yards per carry.
With wet field conditions at kickoff, both teams initially had trouble holding on to the football. Maplewood turned the ball over three times in the first half on two fumbles and a pick. Union City also had two giveaways with a loose pigskin and an interception. The two clubs combined for just 140 yards of total offense, with a 49-yard dash by Union City’s David Roscinski being the longest play of the scoreless half.
Maplewood appeared to get on the scoreboard in the middle portion of the second quarter when McFadden intercepted Bears quarterback Kyler Shaffer and returned the ball 60 yards to the end zone. However, Maplewood was flagged for a blind-side block that negated the score and put the ball back at the Bears 33.
The Tigers were unable to score, but punter Dominick Kinney booted the ball deep in Union City territory and Ethan Peterson fell on the football at the 1 to pin the Bears offense with their backs against the goal line. On the ensuing first-down play, Maplewood’s Joey King seemingly kept Roscinski from clearing the goal line on the carry for a safety, but the officials spotted the ball just outside the end zone. Roscinski’s 49-yard carry followed, but the Tigers bounced back and prevented the Bears from scoring.
“It all just made us play with more anger,” Donor said of the sequence. “We felt like everything was against us, so we just got more upset each time it happened. We just wanted to prove that we were legitimate and could beat them.”
Following some regrouping on the team buses during the intermission, the Tigers proved they were the superior team in the final 24 minutes of play.
“I got on them on the bus,” Borkovich said. “Union City wasn’t doing anything that we didn’t expect them to do, so we had to take advantage of it. We had to get the right blocks, make the right reads and get after it hard. I guess it comes with a young team. The inexperience showed at times and we have a lot of work to do in the offseason to get over that.”
After Austin Parker recovered a fumble by Roscinski on the second play of the half, Maplewood needed just two plays of its own to get on the board. Following a 25-yard scamper by McFadden, Donor notched his first score of the night of 5 yards. The Tigers held a 6-0 lead with 10:55 left in the third quarter after the two-point try failed.
Maplewood quickly got the ball back after Union City’s ensuing fourth-and-12 play ended in a Greg Roae sack. The Tigers took over at the Bears 45 and executed a nine-play drive that ended with a Donor 9-yard rush across the goal line. McFadden ran in the conversion to put the Tigers ahead 14-0 with a few minutes left in the third.
The Bears took over possession at their own 35 and began to find success on the ground. With four carries of 11 yards or more, Union City found itself in the red zone as the clock moved into the fourth quarter. Caleb Stull, who ran for 114 yards on 16 attempts, cut the Bears’ deficit almost in half with a 3-yard plunge into the end zone. Shaffer ran in the two-pointer to make it a 14-8 game with 10:46 to go.
Ahead now by only one possession, Donor darted across the goal line on his third straight carry, this time from 77 yards away, to give the Tigers some breathing room. After McFadden ran in the two-point conversion, Maplewood held a 22-8 advantage at the 10:30 mark.
The two teams traded one more score apiece on their next possessions. Shaffer finished off a 12-play, 66-yard drive that chewed up more than half the quarter with a 1-yard keeper. Donor answered that with his fourth and final score of the night as he rushed for a 22-yard touchdown, which was again followed by a successful conversion by the legs of McFadden.
“It was the way I wanted to go out,” Donor said of his four-score night. “It wouldn’t have happened without my linemen.”
With a 30-14 lead with 2:21 left, it was up to the Maplewood defense to squash any hope for the hosts. Forced to pass the ball, Union City didn’t have much success, and the Tiger defense held strong.
“I’m proud of the line today,” Maplewood senior Joey King said. “We put in a lot of work, put our noses down and drove everybody off the ball.”
Maplewood finished the season with a 3-4 overall record and has something to build on for next season.
“It’s a great way to go out for the seniors, but the season has a bitter taste,” Borkovich said. “We lost to Northwestern twice by a combined four points. We blew Saegertown with five turnovers and the Cambridge Springs game was after just two days of practice with Jesse at quarterback. We really weren’t out of anything, so I guess we just have to build off of it. We’re losing four tough seniors, but we have a good group coming back. We have to get in the weight room, have a good 7-on-7 and get ready to go.”