By Eric Fortune
Known more for leading the Inter Tri-County League second tier in rushing with their three experienced backs, the Wellsville Tigers might have introduced a new wrinkle to their offense in their 39-21 victory Saturday over the Mapleton Mounties 39-21 in a Division VII playoff opening game.
That wrinkle may not surprise some since quarterback Jordan Sloan already was a dual threat with 606 yards rushing and 757 yards passing on the season. But his 215 yards passing on Saturday surprised his coach Rich Wright.
“Did he?” Wright responded when told of Sloan’s numbers. “Well, that’s good.”
Sloan was effective with screen passes and deep passes despite some drops by his receivers. Couple that with Brendon Carr’s two 6-yard touchdown runs and Marcus Moxley’s 36-yard scoring run and Wellsville, ahead 19-0 early in the second quarter, seemed poised to blow the game open.
Though they scored on three of their first five possessions, the Tigers (9-2) struggled to play consistently. A fumble by Moxley gave away excellent field position and drops on perfectly placed balls from Sloan could have increased Wellsville’s advantage in the first half.
“We had too many mistakes,” Wright said. “We had a few drops, but we hung in there. We never really seemed to click tonight. I don’t know if it was the emotions of this being the last game here, but I think we controlled the game.
“I felt pretty comfortable, but we kept shooting ourselves in the foot. I think we had way too many penalties. We dominated the game though.”
Ahead 19-0 with 5:41 left in the half, Wright decided to roll the dice and try an onside kick. But Mapleton (6-5) recovered and got the break it needed, starting possession at midfield. It still took an end around with Corey Kowatch finding Seth Galbraith behind the Tiger secondary with 3:06 to go before halftime for the Mounties to get on the scoreboard.
“We were trying to put them away,” Wright said. “It wasn’t the best call. I made a few bad ones tonight. We were just trying to get one more score. We felt good defensively. The last kickoff they returned to the 38, so I didn’t think there would be much difference.”
At least momentarily, it seemed there was a new complexion to the game. That lasted until the kickoff to start the second half was fumbled by the Mounties which pinned them back at their own 7-yard line.
“I think we had some momentum and then that kickoff pinned us all the way back,” Mapleton coach Robert Mahaney Jr. said. “We were in a hole again.”
Crippling the Mounties more was the loss of quarterback Wade Barone and Connor Black. After those two left, Mapleton became one-dimensional, running a wildcat formation with tailback Travis Pickering.
Sloan found Moxley on a 23-yard scoring pass to make it 26-7 with 2:59 left in the third quarter and put the game out of reach.
The win is the first for the Tigers in the playoffs since 1994 when they made it all the way to the state championship game.