Mapletown makes statement, beats Leechburg in Class A first round
Friday, November 4, 2022 | 10:26 PM
The Mapletown Maples heard what was being said about them in WPIAL Class A football circles.
That the Tri-County South was a soft conference. That their 10-0 record was a mirage. That running back Landan Stevenson was a nice player by small-town, small-school standards.
They heard it, they didn’t like it and they did something about it.
The Maples will meet No. 5 South Side in the quarterfinals next Friday.
“It’s a statement,” Stevenson said. “There was a podcast that said there’s no Tri-County South team that they would have picked. Those chose wrong.”
It was the first playoff win in school history.
“You listen to people on the radio n’at, and there was no one outside of our Greene County people that thought we could win this game,” said Mapletown coach George Messich, who earned his first playoff win in his 41st season on the sidelines. “I hope we proved a lot of things tonight and opened up some eyes.”
It also wasn’t easy for the Maples.
Trailing 21-7 at halftime, Leechburg put together a strong second-half rally built around four big plays.
In the third quarter, Braylan Lovelace, Stevenson’s counterpart in the Class A star running back category, made an over-the-shoulder catch on a punt at the 15-yard line and returned it 85 yards for a score to make it 21-14.
In the fourth quarter, quarterback Jayden Floyd hit Owen McDermott with a 47-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-and-4 play, Blue Devils kicker Ryan Shaw executed a perfect onside kick and Floyd hit Tyler Foley with a 48-yard TD pass to make it 35-28.
“Kids never quit,” Leechburg coach Randy Walters said. “I have an unbelievable group of seniors. They kept working their (butts) off. I’ve got a sophomore quarterback. He didn’t have his best night, but he hung in there. He’s tough as nails. He kept making plays. We’ve got some good things coming down the road.”
Brilliant punt return aside, Lovelace was held to 47 yards on 14 carries. After missing last week’s regular-season finale with an injury, he was helped to the sidelines and missed a few plays in the second half with a bad ankle.
“He’s a stud. He’ll be OK,” Walters said. “I’m not concerned about right now with him. I’m concerned more about him with Pitt and being healthy. When it was his ankle, I was feeling a little better it wasn’t his knee.”
Despite their rally, the Blue Devils never evened the score.
The Maples answered Lovelace’s punt return with a 73-yard drive capped by an 8-yard Stevenson TD run.
They answered Floyd’s pair of TD passes with a 12-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard Stevenson run and ate up almost seven minutes of fourth-quarter clock.
“Being an ex-offensive lineman, I love those long drives,” Messich said. “I really do. Also give our offensive line credit on that drive and every other drive. They came off the ball and opened up some nice holes.”
Mapletown took advantage of Leechburg mistakes to jump out to a 21-7 lead at halftime.
On their first four possessions, the Blue Devils threw an interception, fumbled bad snaps twice and turned the ball over on downs.
The Maples converted three of those mistakes into touchdowns.
“You can’t make mistakes like that in playoff football,” Walter said. “They’re a damn good football team. (Stevenson) is an absolute monster. When you do that, you give him too many opportunities to hurt you.”
Stevenson came into the game needing 80 yards to break the school’s all-time rushing record. He obliterated that by the second quarter and now has 5,976 yards for his career.
He also recovered a fumble, kicked three extra points, completed a pass for a 2-point conversion, had a tackle for loss during a goal-line stand and ran 25 yards on a successful fake punt.
“Landan is just incredible,” Messich said. “He cuts. He runs fast. He’ll put his head and shoulders down and run you over. He just does it all.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review Assistant Sports Editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
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