Kaleb Donor

Maplewood running back Kaleb Donor (26) rushes down the field during the Tigers' 13-12 loss against Northwestern on Friday.

GUYS MILLS — Make no mistake, Bryan Borkovich was very pleased with how the Maplewood Tigers competed against the recently-named

Region 4 champion Northwestern Wildcats. A week after the locals’ head coach witnessed his team drop a road decision at Saegertown, the Black and Gold returned home to push the undefeated Wildcats to the brink, coming up just short, 13-12.

“I was proud of our guys,” said Borkovich following the conclusion of the game. “They were more physical offensively and defensively, but this was a tough one.”

Despite 329 yards of total offense, all on the ground, the Tigers were locked down in the fourth quarter by the Northwestern defense to prevent any late game heroics.

Jesse McFadden collected a career-best 220 yards rushing on the evening, carrying the ball for 31 of the locals’ 52 offensive plays. Kaleb Donor chipped in 88 yards on 15 touches. The duo tallied one touchdown each. Sophomore Ben Giliberto rounded out the offense with 21 quality yards on six carries.

Northwestern showcased a fairly balanced offense, as Ryan Tewell completed 7 of 15 passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns, both of which went to Eric Steinle. On the ground, Austin Swift carried the ball 18 times for 120 yards, while Tewell added 65 yards on eight touches.

From the opening kickoff, both sides utilized their rushing game to try and build some traction, but neither offense could locate the end zone after the first 12 minutes.

After Northwestern’s second drive came up empty late in the first, Maplewood took over from their own 4. With their backs against the wall, McFadden garnered some breathing room on a 15-yard keeper on second-and-5, bringing the Tigers’ second possession into the second quarter. The locals started the frame with back-to-back short gains from McFadden, followed by a pile-pusher with McFadden carrying the ball into Wildcat territory.

An offensive holding call retreated Maplewood back to their side of the field, but Donor regained the yardage on a 15-yard carry off to the right side. 

Just three plays later from the Northwestern 26, McFadden took a direct snap and broke loose to the left before cutting back up the middle and into the end zone for a Tigers touchdown.

The visitors were quick to respond, however, posting a seven-play, 62-yard drive in just under three minutes, highlighted by a 26-yard pass from Tewell to Steinle on fourth down to claim the lead.

Looking to go into halftime with the lead, Maplewood continued to run the ball up the field, including another first down run of 18 yards by McFadden, as the clock approached the final two minutes of the half.

Unfortunately, the locals fell into trouble after committing a false start penalty on their oppositions’ 37, forcing the Tigers to punt the ball back to Northwestern with 34 seconds to play.

After consecutive incompletions by Tewell to bring up third down, the Wildcats’ quarterback took matters into his own hands and broke off a 30-yard dash to set his team up on the Tigers’ side of the field. What followed was a play that even Borkovich called “one of the smartest high school plays” he had ever seen.

With six seconds on the dial, Tewell stepped up and fired a hail mary towards the end zone. Although his pass was caught by Jake Kelly inside the 10-yard line, the receiver was met immediately by a pack of Tiger defenders. So, the junior lateralled the ball to Steinle who was streaking across the field and carried the ball over the goal line for an immaculate score to end the half.

Maplewood received the second half kickoff, and much like Northwestern had done in their early-season meeting, the Tigers dominated the time of possession over the third quarter.

After Donor opened the locals’ series with a short run, McFadden followed up with back-to-back 11-yard carries to move the chains. In fact, McFadden would handle the ball for six consecutive plays for 35 yards. Donor took over from there, needing just two plays to grind out another touchdown for the home team. 

Placed at the Wildcats’ 20, the senior back snatched the handoff and turned the corner around the right side, racing to the pylon for six points. Now trailing by one, Maplewood set up to go for two and restore their lead, but the Wildcats’ stuffed McFadden at the goal line, preserving their advantage.

The fourth frame was all Northwestern, as the Tigers were stopped on fourth down on consecutive drives to seal the game.

“I’m happy we showed up on offense tonight,” said Borkovich.

He was especially emphatic when asked if his team had demonstrated the offensively intensity he had coveted all season long, saying “yes, finally!”

Maplewood’s record drops to 2-4 overall as the Tigers will close their 2020 season next Friday at Titusville.

“We’ve had our ups and downs (this season),” explained Borkovich. “But tonight, we all came together. Last week was definitely low in the program, but to go toe-to-toe with the region champion, I thought was impressive.”

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