Kaleb Donor

Maplewood running back Kaleb Donor enters tonight’s playoff game against Reynolds just 11 yards shy of the Tigers’ single-season rushing record of 1,556 yards set by Steve Cox in 1993.

Friday’s District 10 Class 2A Semifinal football matchup between the Maplewood Tigers and Reynolds at Meadville High School could provide fans with a real case of déjà vu. 

It was a mere 359 days ago where the same two clubs met up under the lights of Bender Field in the quarterfinal round, where the Raiders triumphed 36-0 over the Tigers, who lost quarterback JD McFadden to an ankle injury early in the first quarter. And, again like last season, Maplewood (9-0) defeated Reynolds (7-3) in their regular-season matchup. The Tigers defended their home field against the Raiders on Sept. 20, with a 25-14 victory.

Even with all that history repeating itself, Maplewood coach Bryan Borkovich and his Tigers aren’t focused on the rear-view mirror, and he “doesn’t think” the feelings of déjà vu will be among his players when kickoff happens at 7 p.m. tonight.

“Last year is last year,” Borkovich said. “We do workouts with Meadville in there, so I think it’s just another location.”

What Maplewood will be focusing on tonight is getting its first playoff win in Borkovich’s tenure and the first since the Tigers beat Kennedy Christian, 24-6, in the 1993 District 10 Semifinals. Borkovich says the keys to beating Reynolds for the second time this season are “matching their physicality” and “winning the turnover battle.”

The Tigers have a similar weapon at running back like they did in 1993, when Steve Cox posted a school record 1,556 yards on the ground. Kaleb Donor is just 11 yards away from tying Cox’s mark from 1993, as the junior has totaled 1,545 yards and 22 touchdowns on 135 attempts, using a style mixed with speed and toughness. In this year’s previous meeting with Raiders, Donor totaled 194 yards and two touchdowns.

But, the difference now, is that Maplewood isn’t as one-dimensional with the football as the 1993 club. Tigers quarterback JD McFadden brings the dual-threat of the run and the pass, which allows the offense to be unpredictable. McFadden, who is the first Crawford County passer to eclipse 5,000 career passing yards, has been extremely efficient through the air with his 62.2% completion percentage and 17-3 touchdown to interception ratio. He’s also scrambled for 456 yards and nine touchdowns on 75 carries.

Unlike last year, the Tigers will be well rested after having a bye week during the quarterfinal round. Maplewood will be taking the field for the first time since blanking Saegertown in its regular season finale on Oct. 18. During their time off, the Tigers have gone back to the basics, according to Borkovich, perfecting the fundamentals on both sides of the football. Meanwhile, Reynolds is coming off a 43-7 quarterfinal thrashing of Eisenhower. 

The Tigers have had time to nurse any injuries and Borkovich indicates his team is “all healthy and ready to roll,” but the question remains if the extra time off will cause their quality of play to suffer, or cause a slow start out of the gate.

“I sure hope not,” Borkovich said. “(The time off) helped us to heal up some minor injuries, and I think the team is hungry for some playoff action.”

Any precipitation that may fall overnight into tomorrow evening should be clear by game time, although it will be a cold night for football with weather.com calling for game-time temperatures around 36 degrees Fahrenheit. 

“You can’t let it bother you,” Borkovich said. “You can’t control it, and it’s the same for both teams. The rain should be gone by kickoff, so we just (need to) control what we can control.”

Whichever team can play their game the best, despite the cold and a fierce rival on the opposing sideline, will have a date in the District 10 Class 1A Championship Game against the victor of today’s second semifinal between Farrell (7-2) and West Middlesex (7-3).

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