Shutdown Defenses

Tonight’s District 10 Class 1A Championship Game between the Maplewood Tigers and Farrell Steelers will feature two of the four defenses in the entire district that surrendered less than 100 points so far this year.

Maplewood and Farrell have simply been two of the best football teams this season, not just among the Class 1A teams of District 10, but of the entire district. But, for one of the two programs, the season will end tonight after the conclusion of the District 10 Class 1A Championship Game at Bender Field in Meadville, at 7.

The winner between Maplewood (10-0) and Farrell (9-2) will face the District 5 champion (Tussey Mountain or Northern Bedford) in the first round of the PIAA Class 1A Championships on either Nov. 15 or 16, at a site and time to be determined, while the losing club will head into the offseason with nothing more than a region title to show for its efforts.

The path for both teams to the district title game has been met with little resistance. Maplewood earned a bye in the quarterfinal round and then disposed of Reynolds by a 36-0 margin in last week’s semifinals. Farrell, the four-time defending 1A Champions, essentially had a bye in the quarterfinals when Cambridge Springs forfeited their contest before the Steelers eliminated West Middlesex 40-0 in the semifinals.

Tonight’s title tilt will feature two teams that know how to score and how to keep their opponents out of the end zone. Farrell (402) and Maplewood (400) are two of the eight teams out of the 38 District 10 football programs that have reached the 400-point threshold on offense over the course of the season. Meanwhile, the Steelers (54) and Tigers (83) are two of only four teams that have limited their opponents to a combined total of less than 100 points.

Maplewood coach Bryan Borkovich said the game “could go either way” in regard to it being a shootout or shutout.

“I think both teams have had great years, and you never know on any given Friday,” Borkovich said.

The success of both programs during the 2019 season has been clearly evident. Farrell has posted a nine-game winning streak after starting the season 0-2 with loss to University Prep and Wilmington. In all nine of those wins, the Steelers have not allowed a point to their opponents. Meanwhile, Maplewood has posted five shutouts on defense in its undefeated campaign.

Farrell has built upon their PIAA pedigree over the past 20 years and has become a perennial champion contender in District 10 since joining the district from the WPIAL in the 2006 season. Since 1990, Farrell has made it to the PIAA Class 1A Championship Game five times, coming away with the state title in 1995, 1996 and 2018. 

Even with the history of Steelers’ sideline, Borkovich said that his Tigers have to “get ready for them the same way you get ready for anyone else,” and that the “preparation can’t change; it always has to be like you are preparing for a state champion.”

In an effort to try and gauge what could happen tonight, Farrell and Maplewood have each played six games against common opponents. The Tigers won all six matchups opposed by Cambridge Springs, Cochranton, Reynolds (twice), Union City and West Middlesex by a combined score of 222-34. En route to their six victories, with West Middlesex being the opponent that Farrell played twice, the Steelers did not surrender a point in those six games while posting 278 points on the scoreboard.

The Steelers lineup features senior quarterback Raymond Raver, who has gone 46 of 71 passing for 768 yards and 12 touchdowns through the air. He’s also rushed for 363 yards and five touchdowns on the ground, while only tossing one interception.

In addition to Raver, Farrell’s offense features a pair of underclassmen that can handle the rushing duties. Sophomore Anthony Stallworth leads the team with 997 yards and 10 touchdowns on 99 carries, while junior Jaden Harrison had contributed 643 yards and nine scores on 48 attempts. Senior Brice Butler and Harrison have been the top targets in the passing game, each totaling 18 receptions this year. Butler has accumulated 443 yards and six touchdowns, while Harrison has totaled 93 yards and two trips to the end zone. Senior Brian Hilton Jr. is second on the team with 198 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 14 catches.

With all of those weapons at Farrell coach Anthony Pegues’ disposal, Borkovich and his Tigers are not honing in on one specific person when Maplewood is one defense.

“All of their skill guys are dangerous,” Borkovich said. “Whoever they decide to give the ball to, we need to be in the right spot and make a play.”

Maplewood’s offense has the ability to keep up with Farrell if the game becomes a shootout. Junior running back Kaleb Donor broke the single-season rushing record last week, and has 1,595 yards and 23 touchdowns on the season, while quarterback JD McFadden has thrown for 18 touchdowns and 1,866 yards in 2019. The big play ability of the Tiger offense could be a saving grace if yards are hard to come by. Maplewood’s average touchdown pass has gone for 38.4 yards, while the average rushing score has been for 23.9 yards. Twenty of those combined scores have been at least 40-yard plays.

No matter the route the Tigers offense takes, committing turnovers in a game like this will most likely lead to the season coming to an end.

“We have to play smart football; can’t throw into coverage and can’t put air under passes,” Borkovich said. “We have to protect the ball at all costs.”

For Maplewood, winning the district title would be a historic event in the program’s history. The Tigers have only been to one District 10 title game, in 1993, when Maplewood was blanked by Eisenhower, 15-0. Maplewood will have its second shot at the crown tonight, and the first under Borkovich since taking over the program in 2012.

“It would be huge for the program to win a district title,” Borkovich said. “(It) would really show how far we have come in eight years.”

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