By Frank Foreman
GUYS MILLS —
In what was a close game throughout, Maplewood proved that it wanted Friday night’s Region 2 matchup just a bit more than Union City, separating itself on both sides of the ball in the second half during the Tigers’ 28-19 win over the Bears at Maplewood High School Stadium.
The second half was a redemption of sorts for the entire Maplewood team. From finally being able to break open long runs to shutting down the Union City offense, the Tigers came out in the second half on a mission, and that tenacity was enough to get the win.
“It feels great,” Maplewood (1-2, 1-1 Region 2) head coach Bryan Borkovich said on securing his team’s first win of the season. “We are right where we need to be. The first two weeks, we didn’t play to our ability. We made too many mistakes. Tonight was better, but we still need to protect the ball better.”
Protecting the ball was an issue early for the Tigers, as running back Miller Peters fumbled on his first carry of the game, and a second time later in the first quarter.
But much like the rest of the Tigers team, the second half was a new beginning, as Maplewood quickly increased its seven-point halftime lead when Peters scored from eight yards out to make it 21-7 with 9:37 left in the third quarter.
The run followed a three-and-out for the Bears’ offense, as Maplewood’s defense continually got better as the game went along.
“I’m very pleased with our defense. That is what they are capable of,” Borkovich said. “Sometimes they get a little laxed, but they played tough.”
Union City got back in the game on the last play in the third quarter, as Shane Russell punched it in from four yards out to cut the lead to 21-13 following a failed PAT.
But back came Maplewood, and more specifically, Peters.
Following a 21-yard run on the opening possession on the ensuing drive by Dane Barker, Peters took a hand-off on the next play, cut to the outside and broke down the sideline for a 48-yard gain. Peters shook off three tacklers on the run, and received great downfield blocking, pushing the ball down to the Union City 10-yard line.
Though the drive ultimately didn’t result in a touchdown, it switched field position and proved to be a huge blow to the Bears.
“I just saw my teammates blocking for me,” Peters said of his run. “They were doing it all game, and before that play, they said they would go all out on the next play, and they did. I just did my part.”
Both teams traded possessions for the majority of the fourth quarter before Peters put the game away on a 12-yard touchdown run to put the score at 28-13.
A late Union City touchdown pass from Brody Mangel to Brett Reynolds with 39 seconds left made things interesting, but a failed 2-point conversion put the game out of reach for the Bears.
Peters was a great representation of his Tigers’ teammates Friday, struggling early in the game, only to break out in the second half when the game was on the line.
“We’re asking a lot of him, and it’s a big deal,” Borkovich said of Peters getting the game ball following the victory. “It shows we have confidence in him, and he should have confidence in himself.”
Peters finished with 142 yards on 14 carries and a pair of touchdowns. Also having a big game was Barker, who rushed for 94 yards and two touchdowns for Maplewood.
Union City was led by Mangel, who rushed for 136 yards and threw for 109 yards in the losing effort.
Union City scored first when Mangel scored on a two-yard touchdown run to make it 7-0 late in the first quarter.
Maplewood answered with 14 unanswered points, both coming on Barker six-yard touchdown runs.
Both teams combined for 22 penalties in the game.
For Union City, a winless season after three weeks is not where the Bears wanted or expected to be.
For Maplewood and Peters, Friday’s win is just the beginning.
“That’s motivation right there,” Peters said pointing to his game ball. “That’s motivation for the entire team.”