On the one side there is a team that hasn’t tasted defeat this season, yet has never appeared in a District 10 championship game.
On the other side is a team that lost its first two games of the season, has been untouchable since, and is quite familiar with championship games.
Which team will eventually wear the crown? We’ll find out tonight as Maplewood — ranked sixth in the state according to PennLive.com — takes on Farrell — ranked second — for the District 10 Class 1A championship. Game time is 7 p.m. at Meadville High School’s Bender Field.
A new frontier
Maplewood has been unblemished this season, rolling out to a 10-0 record. The Tigers have crushed opponents all year long. They haven’t played one game that ended within one score, outscoring their opponents 400-83. They advanced to the title game with a 39-0 win over Reynolds in a semifinal matchup last Friday.
“We’ve been building up to this, getting better and better every year,” said Maplewood head coach Bryan Borkovich. “This has been the goal all along to get to the district championship against Farrell.”
Indeed. The Maplewood program has had some lean years in the past. Yet, ever since Maplewood’s current seniors joined the program four seasons ago, the Tigers have consistently put together winning seasons. At the same time, they still had their struggles in big games.
This season, that has changed. The team won its first league championship in 25 years when it claimed the Region 2 crown earlier this season. Then, ’Wood added its first playoff victory since 1993 when it defeated Reynolds last week in the semifinals, 36-0.
Now, Maplewood has a chance to do something its football program has never done before — win a District 10 title
“These guys have a chance to do something special,” said Borkovich.
Same old Steelers?
The playoff history for Farrell is quite a bit different. After a long association with the WPIAL, the Steelers rejoined District 10 in 2006. In the 12 years since, Farrell has won a District 10 championship seven times, including the Class 1A title the last four years.
Those D-10 titles were usually followed by deep runs through the state tournament. The Steelers were state runners-up in 2015, state semifinalists in 2016 and 2017, and then won the Class 1A state championship a year ago, defeating Lackawanna Trail 55-20 in the 2018 title game.
After that run to the state trophy, Farrell underwent several changes. The Steelers graduated several star players, many of whom moved on to the college game. And they got a new head coach, as Anthony Pegues took over for Jarrett Samuels. Pegues was a quarterback for Farrell when it won a state title in 1995, and was as assistant with the Steelers for seven seasons, including the offensive coordinatorlast season.
At the start of the 2019 season, it looked as though those changes had taken a significant toll on the Steelers, as they lost their opening two games — 14-12 to University Prep and 40-0 to Wilmington.
However, since Week 3 Farrell has looked as tough as ever, running off nine straight wins while outscoring their opponents 382-0, which included a 2-0 forfeit win over Cambridge Springs.
“The senior leadership stepped in and took this team over,” said Pegues. “They settled in and gelled.”
The Steelers, like the Tigers, won their semifinal game by a landslide, 42-0 over West Middlesex.
The Tigers’ stripes
Maplewood earned this chance with a potent offense led by senior quarterback J.D. McFadden. The dual-threat passer is 82 for 130 for a school-record 1,866 yards and 18 passing touchdowns versus just four interceptions. He adds 533 rushing yards and 10 TDs on the ground.
McFadden has been starting at QB all four years of his high school career, climbing to the top of the list for Crawford County’s all-time leading passers, with 5,629 yards and 58 touchdowns.
“Their quarterback, McFadden, is really athletic,” said Pegues. “They’re not really big up front, but they’re very scrappy.”
Scrappy enough to turn junior Kaleb Donor into the program’s new single-season rushing leader. On 149 carries, he has amassed 1,595 yards — an average of 10.7 yards per carry —and has toted in 23 touchdowns this year.
As of late, wide receiver Jesse McFadden has also joined the running game. After a 102-yard rushing performance against Reynolds last week, he has 260 yards and four scores on the ground.
Mainly, however, Jesse McFadden is better known for reeling in passes from his older brother, J.D. Jessie has 33 carries for 657 yards receiving and six TDs.
Also in the receiving corps are Clay Cox and Levi Butryn. Cox has hauled in 23 catches this year for 583 yards and five touchdowns. Butryn adds 305 yards and four scores.
Defensively, the Tigers are turnover machines forcing eight interceptions and 15 fumbles, 13 they recovered from opponents this year.
“They’re really scrappy,” Pegues added of the Tigers’ defense. “They play as a unit and play together.”
The Steelers’ mettle
“(The Steelers) bring the same challenges every year,” said Borkovich. “They are well-coached. A storied program.”
The story this season seems to be the defense thanks to that recent shutout streak.
The Steelers have collected several turnovers along the way, including 10 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries.
“At the end of the day, you have to execute and make some plays,” said Borkovich. “Their defense is so good, they don’t let you have those plays.”
Offensively, Farrell is just as electric as ever though the focus this season is definitely to run the ball.
The Steelers have 276 carries as a team to just 115 passing attempts this year.
Sophomore running back Anthony Stallworth is the big playmaker for Farrell. He has 997 yards on 99 carries with 10 touchdowns.
Jaden Harrison compliments Stallworth and he also has big-play potential, averaging 13.4 yards per rush en route to nine rushing scores.
Quarterback Raymond Raver Jr. is an efficient passer. He’s 46 for 71 for 768 yards. Raver has 12 TDs and just one pick. In the run game he adds 363 yards and five scores.
“We know what Farrell is. All super athletic kids,” Borkovich added. “The quarterback has a good arm on him.
“The offensive linemen do a good job.”
Brice Butler is another big-time player for Farrell at wide receiver and defensive back. Butler has 443 yards with six touchdown catches. He had four interceptions in last week’s win over West Middlesex.
The winner enters the PIAA Class 1A state playoffs against District 5 champion, which will be contested tonight between Tussey Mountain and Northern Bedford.
Jordan Hansgen can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.