The playoff history for the Maplewood football team isn’t exactly glittering.
To find the Tigers’ last victory in the postseason, one had to go back to 1993. Maplewood defeated Kennedy Catholic 24-6 in that season’s Class A semifinals.
Outside of that game, it was nine tries and nine losses for the Tigers, including first-round bow-outs in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Last year’s loss was an especially bitter one for the program. Maplewood had defeated Reynolds during the regular season 25-14. But when the two teams met in that season’s 1A quarterfinals it was all Raiders, 36-0.
So, Maplewood came into 2019 with a monkey on its back.
Friday night, the Tigers tore it off and flung it into the creek that runs next to Meadville High’s Bender Field for good measure. In last night’s District 10 Class 1A semifinal, they beat last year’s playoff foil, Reynolds, and did it by last year’s score, 36-0.
“It’s been this team all year,” said Maplewood head coach Bryan Borkovich, who was 7 years old when ’Wood last won in the playoffs. “In the past we had always gone places but never finished. And we were always like, ‘We’re going to be the ones. We’re going to be the ones.’
“But, you know what, these guys have kept every single one of their promises. We wanted a region title and we got that. We wanted to play in the District 10 title game, and that’s where we’re going.”
Now 10-0 on the season, Maplewood moves on to the Class 1A championship game, which is scheduled for next week at a site and time to be announced. The Tigers will play Farrell, which rolled through West Middlesex 42-0 last night.
Reynolds, meanwhile, ends its year with a record of 7-4.
“I’m proud of our guys,” said Raiders head coach Josh Mull. “They fought hard. They did a lot of great things this season. Ending the season with a loss, that comes naturally when you’re in the playoffs. You either end with a loss or win a state championship.
“I look at it this way: We lost to two (1A) teams this year. And one of those teams is going to win a District 10 title. So, that’s pretty good for our guys.”
To start the game, it looked like Reynolds had figured out Maplewood’s offensive attack. A Tigers false start and a sack by the Raiders’ Luke Faber had the Tigers facing third-and-20 on their own 19.
However, on that third down, Maplewood quarterback J.D. McFadden dropped back and delivered a gorgeous strike to receiver Clay Cox down the right sideline. Cox turned away from his defender and covered about 50 more yards after the catch, finishing up in the end zone for an 81-yard touchdown.
“That was huge,” said McFadden. “That set the tone for the whole game. They could have stopped us in our own end and that would have gave them momentum. But that definitely put the momentum on our side and we kept it for the rest of the game.”
About that play, Mull said, “You look at that pass, the coverage was good, the ball was perfectly thrown. (McFadden) put it where only the receiver could catch it. That was good football.”
A couple series later, Maplewood was faced with another third-down situation in its own territory. Once again, McFadden released the pressure, this time finding a wide-open Levi Butryn in the center of the field for a 43-yard pass, which put the Tigers in the red zone.
Two plays later, Jesse McFadden carried in the touchdown from 16 yards out. Maplewood was now up 16-0, having tacked on 2-point conversion runs by J.D. McFadden after each TD.
Neither team would scored in the second quarter. And Reynolds had a prime opportunity early in the third when Sean O’Hara picked off a pass by J.D. McFadden, giving the Raiders possession on the Tigers’ 33.
However, a personal foul by Reynolds and a fumbled snap pushed the Raiders back and they would have to punt.
Fumbles would plague the Raiders all night. They would put the ball on the ground seven times, losing it three times.
Maybe it was because the Raiders already had their hands full with Maplewood’s defense. The Tigers yielded just 121 yards of offense while authoring the shutout.
“Reynolds has got a lot of great players,” said Borkovich. “Cole Toy haunts my nightmares during the week. You’ve got to be ready against these guys. And we were. Defense was getting after it tonight.”
Maplewood would eventually make it a 22-0 game midway through the third quarter on a play that perhaps shouldn’t have went anywhere.
First, the Tigers lined up wrong. The coaches corrected things from the sideline. Then the handoff went to the wrong runner. But Jesse McFadden ended up being Mr. Right anyway. He went 79 yards for the score.
“I wasn’t even supposed to get the ball,” said Jesse, who finished the game with 104 yards on five carries. “The next thing I know, I’m getting the ball. So I just followed (lineman) Bryan Kelly while he was blocking. Then there was just a seam, so I took it and scored.”
Later, Austin Votee had a strip and fumble recovery on the Raiders’ 8, Kaleb Donor dove in from a yard out two plays after that to make it 28-0.
Donor finished with 50 yards rushing. He would become Maplewood’s all-time single-season rusher last night, ending the game with (unofficially) 1,565 yards, pushing him ahead of 1993 graduate Steve Cox, who had 1,556 for his career.
“This is the best line I’ve followed,” said Donor. “I love them to death. I wouldn’t be here, I wouldn’t have the yards I have without that line. And I thank them after every game.”
Then in the fourth, J.D. McFadden ended an efficient six-play, 84-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run. A 2-point pass to Cox put the final points on the board.
J.D. would finish with 68 yards rushing, while going 8-for-11 for 266 yards passing.