JD passes

Maplewood senior J.D. McFadden passes the ball during Friday night’s District 10 Class 1A championship game against Farrell at Meadville High School’s Bender Field. The Tigers may have lost to the Steelers 35-20, but the fight they put up earned them a lot of much deserved respect.

While you couldn’t quite hear the messages that were being passed helmet-to-helmet between the Maplewood and Farrell players in the handshake line following Friday night’s District 10 Class 1A championship game, it was easy to get the gist of it. 

They were likely the same sort of messages that Maplewood was receiving on Twitter late Friday night and into Saturday morning.

Basically, it was this: Yes, the Tigers lost the game. But the Tigers had won some respect at the same time. 

“For sure,” Maplewood senior quarterback J.D. McFadden said afterward. “No team, I don’t think, ever, has given us this much respect. They didn’t respect us at all coming into this game. But we definitely gave them something to respect us for.”

Farrell won its fifth straight district championship with a 35-20 win over Maplewood. 

However, Maplewood had Farrell thinking for a good stretch of that game. In fact, the Tigers had the lead (20-19) and the ball in the fourth quarter before Farrell punched in two touchdowns to pull away. 

“All of their fans and their players were like, ‘Helluva game,’” said Tigers receiver Clay Cox. “They respect us now. They had to work for it.”

Why is this a big deal? It’s a championship game. It should be competitive, right? 

Well, yes, unless you understand the dynamics of District 10.

In the district’s smaller classifications — currently Class 3A to 1A; or Class AA to A prior to 2016 — there’s Mercer County and then there’s everybody else. (And, trust us, the Mercer County media is more than happy to remind everyone about this fact.)

To find the last team north of Mercer County to win a small school district title you’d have to go back 12 years to 2007, when Mercyhurst Prep beat Mercer for the Class A crown, 21-19. 

Prior to that, it’s another unbroken chain of Mercer County titles until 1996, when Cambridge Springs won Class A 13-10 in overtime over Sharpsville. 

Look at it this way: Since 1989 there have been 65 small-school championship games. 

Mercer County teams have won 55 of those championship games. The rest of District 10 has won 10. And seven of those were between 1993 and 1990. (Note that this year’s Class 3A title hasn’t been decided yet, but it will be between two Mercer County teams, Grove City and Sharon.)

The Maplewood-Farrell matchup seemed to amplify this dichotomy. Farrell was the defending state champion in Class 1A. The Steelers were ranked second in the state by Pennlive.com. They had a shutout streak against their opponents that went all the way back to August. 

And then there was Maplewood. The Tigers had never even been to a District 10 championship game. The program hadn’t even won a playoff game since 1993. 

Sure, the Tigers were having a fantastic season. They were a school-record 10-0 coming into the contest, and had broken their playoff losing streak, defeating Reynolds 36-0 in the semifinals. 

Still, how many times have we seen a team have a great regular season while playing up here in the north — be it Crawford County, or Erie County or Warren County, etc. — only to hit the playoffs, run into a Mercer County squad and get flattened? 

That’s what a lot of people were expecting when Maplewood and Farrell went head-to-head on Friday night.  

However, the Tigers showed up at Bender Field staring down decades of Mercer County domination, as well as their own inexperience in the big show, and they took on those challenges like few other northern teams have done before. 

“I’m proud of how we played today,” said McFadden. “I was hoping the underclassmen and some of the seniors that hadn’t played as long as I have weren’t going to get intimidated. Because (Farrell) is a really good team and they come out chirping. So, I’m super proud of them for holding their own against that team.” 

They played Maplewood football.

“Yes sir,” said McFadden. “Yes we did.”

“I mean, nobody gave us a shot,” Borkovich said. “But I’m really proud of the guys. The seniors picked it up and set the bar high moving forward. Winning it would have been great. But what we did, I couldn’t ask for much more. You want their respect, to show that you belong a little bit.

“We were a great team this year. They are a great team. There’s not much more you could ask from the guys.”

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