By Frank Foreman
GUS MILLS —
Sometimes all it takes is one big play to make a difference in a game. Friday night, Iroquois made two of them.
A first half 42-yard touchdown run and a second half 31-yard touchdown run gave the Braves just enough breathing room over Maplewood, as Iroquois held off a late drive by the Tigers to earn an 18-12 Region 2 victory at Maplewood High School Stadium.
Naturally there was a ton of action sandwiched between the two big touchdown runs, but it’s those two game-changing rushes that will keep Maplewood (2-3, 2-2 Region 2) head coach Bryan Borkovich scratching his head for a few days.
“It was the two big plays that killed us. That was the difference,” Borkovich said.
On both plays, the Tigers appeared to have players in position to make the tackle. And on both plays, the Iroquois (2-3, 2-2 Region 2) backs found a way through the defense and into the end zone.
“It’s even worse when you are lined up correctly and have guys there to make a play, and then not do it,” Borkovich said. “You just can’t do that. We set the defense up so we would have an extra guy there that they couldn’t block, but we have to make the play.”
The first Braves score of the game came when Tyler Barone got loose and scored on a 42-yard touchdown run with 2:47 left in the first quarter to make it 6-0. The Braves failed on the two-point conversion, a theme throughout the night, to keep the lead at six points.
That same score held up at halftime before the Braves added to their lead in the third quarter thanks to a 31-yard scamper from Brandon Roda, where he went practically untouched on the outside to make it 12-0.
Down by a pair of scores, Maplewood needed a spark, and found one in the form of special teams.
Throughout the night, the Tigers’ return men continually set up Maplewood with good field position, but it wasn’t until under one minute left in the third quarter were the Tigers able to take advantage of it.
Tigers quarterback Dane Barker finished off a five-play drive following a big punt return by Miller Peters with a 2-yard plunge into the end zone to cut the lead in half at 12-6.
Maplewood forced a punt on the ensuing drive and held all the momentum before Barker was pressured early in the fourth quarter and fumbled on a 2nd-and-18, turning the ball over to Iroquois at the Maplewood 23-yard line with seven minutes left in the game.
The Braves cashed in on the Tigers’ miscue, and five plays later scored on a Roda 3-yard touchdown run to push the lead to 18-6 after another failed two-point conversion.
The score came with 4:42 left in the game, putting Maplewood in a horrible spot for a comeback.
That’s when another great return set up shop for Maplewood at the Iroquois 25-yardline. Three plays later, the Tigers scored on a 12-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Dahl from Barker to make it 18-12 with 3:34 left in the game.
With the Maplewood crowd echoing the field, the Tigers got a much-needed three-and-out, forcing an Iroquois punt, and taking over at its own 14-yard line with under two minutes left in the game.
After Peters ran for 13 yards to give Maplewood some breathing room, the thunderous crowd quickly turned silent as a negative rushing attempt and three incomplete passes turned the ball over on downs, and put an end to Maplewood’s comeback.
“We have to fix the mistakes and get ready for out next game. We will just take the positives and figure it out,” Borkovich said. “A lot of it has to do with inexperience, but we’re five weeks in now, so that’s not an excuse anymore.
Maplewood’s rushing attack, the bread and butter of the team’s offense, certainly wasn’t a positive Friday night, as the Tigers rushed for just 122 yards on 31 carries. Peters finished with 75 of those yards.
Through the air wasn’t much better, as Barker finished 7-for-18 for 46 yards and a touchdown.
“The run game was nonexistent tonight,” Bordovich said. “I’m a little worried about where our heads are.”
Iroquois didn’t light up the stat sheet either, rushing for 169 total yards on 40 carries, and passing for just 55 yards total.
It’s back to the drawing board for Maplewood, as the Tigers have a short week before they travel to Mercyhurst Prep Thursday.
“It’s just a lack of execution,” Borkovich said. “I’m not taking anything away from what (Iroquois) was doing, but we were consistent with what we were doing, like in previous weeks.”