GUYS MILLS — The Maplewood Tigers football team had Sept. 20, 2019 marked on its calendar ever since the season’s schedule had been announced. After suffering a first-round playoff loss to the Reynolds Raiders a year ago in a game that featured a handful of ejections, the Tigers were out for revenge on Friday night in front of their home crowd.
Although two perfect 4-0 football teams took the field in the highly anticipated non-region crossover, the two clubs struggled to seize any momentum, committing six turnovers combined throughout the night. However, it was the Tigers’ timely running game and stalwart second-half defense that ultimately led to Maplewood remaining undefeated with a 25-14 victory.
Kaleb Donor continued his strong season on the ground for Maplewood, rushing for 195 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries, including two 51-yard runs that went all the way to the end zone. JD McFadden added a pair of 1-yard plunges across the goal line to round out the Tiger attack.
“I think it’s important,” Maplewood coach Bryan Borkovich said of getting the win. “We know in the grand scheme of things this game doesn’t mean as much as other games on the schedule, but you’re glad that you get something back from last year. I was glad there weren’t any problems. No one picked us to win, so we had nothing to lose.”
Maplewood set the tone early with touchdowns on its opening two drives, the second being set up with an interception by Jesse McFadden on Reynolds’ first offensive play from scrimmage. Donor quickly competed the opening drive of the night with his first 51-yard burst to the end zone on the fourth play of the game. After Jesse McFadden’s interception of Reynolds quarterback Bryce McCloskey at the Raider 44, Tiger QB JD McFadden hit Clay Cox on a 33-yard pass, and later capped the drive with a 1-yard sneak across the goal line.
However, the Tigers missed chances to add to their lead on both point-after attempts, which started a series of miscues that allowed the Raiders to stay in the game.
After the Maplewood defense forced a 3-and-out on Reynolds’ second possession of the game, the Tigers gave the ball right back to the Raiders on a fumble at their own 21-yard line. The Reynolds offense then converted two fourth-down plays, the second being a 5-yard touchdown pass from McCloskey to Sean O’Hara, which cut the Tiger lead to 12-8 with 1:46 left in the first quarter after Aiden Mull’s successful two-point run.
It seemed like Maplewood found a little bit of rhythm when the Tigers bounced back on its next series. Donor rattled off his second 51-yard touchdown run of the night to pull ahead, 18-8, just under one minute into the second quarter.
“It’s so much fun running behind this line,” Donor said. “Most of them are two-year starters, and they get push right off of the ball. Every time you touch the ball you’re getting yards.”
Then, the Maplewood defense made a goal line stand when Reynolds went for the score on 4th-and-goal from the Tiger 3, but fell two yards short of the goal line on a jet sweep.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, the Maplewood offense would commit another costly turnover on the ensuing drive. After a first-down run went for no gain, Maplewood turned the ball over again with a fumble that Reynolds’ O’Hara recovered at the 1-yard line. The recovery set up a dive by McCloskey into the end zone, which trimmed Reynolds’ deficit to 18-14 heading into the intermission.
“(When we missed the second two-point try), we lost our focus, shooting ourselves in the foot,” Borkovich said. “We can’t let teams like that back in the game. We you get on them, you have to stay on them, and I don’t think we did that tonight.”
Coming out for the second half, the Reynolds Raiders took possession and swiftly moved the ball down the field in hopes to take their first lead of the night. After moving the chains three times, Reynolds made a key mistake on 3rd-and-18 at the Tiger 30 when McCloskey fired a backwards pass toward O’Hara that was off target. Maplewood’s Jason McFadden pounced on the loose pigskin to give the ball back to the Tiger offense. Twelve plays later, the Tigers put the final points of the game on the scoreboard when JD McFadden scored his second rushing touchdown and Connor Palmiero nailed the extra point, at the 3:07 mark in the third quarter.
From there, the Tiger defense took over. Bending, but not breaking, Maplewood forced one punt and made two stands on fourth-down attempts with Reynolds inside Tiger territory to preserve the victory — the last of which coming on 4th-and-2 at the Tiger 35-yard line. Maplewood had three takeaways during the course of the game, Jesse McFadden’s interception and fumble recoveries by Jason McFadden and JD McFadden.
“I was happy with the way the defensive line played tonight,” Borkovich said. “They have a great line, but Bryan Kelly and Joey King are no slouches. We have a lot of things to work on, but I was happy that they stepped up.”
Maplewood (5-0 overall, 2-0 Region 2) will host Union City (3-2 overall, 2-0 Region 2) next week in a matchup that could determine who wins the Region 2 championship. Borkovich knows his team will have to limit its mistakes against the Bears.
“I’m proud of them because we didn’t quit, but we can’t keep shooting ourselves in the foot over and over again,” Borkovich said. “I’m glad we played hard, but we can’t be so sloppy. There is stuff for us to clean up, and we’ll use this as a marker game.”