By Tony Maluso
NORWALK - When things were seemingly at their darkest for the Calvert Senecas, their most electric player provided the first spark that ignited the team. One big play led to another and pretty soon it was lights out for Norwalk St. Paul.
After falling behind 21-7 in the first quarter, Calvert ran off the next 35 points en route to a 56-27 victory in a first-round Division VI Region 22 playoff game.
The Flyers took their 21-7 lead on a blocked punt recovered in the end zone by Ryan Reikowski. Everything was falling St. Paul's way as Calvert was besieged with numerous penalties - eight in the first quarter including two unsportsmanlike conducts and a personal foul - and a player ejection. Plus, the Senecas couldn't stop St. Paul's backfield tandem of Michael Griffin and Devin Smith.
Slowly the game started to change, starting with Nick Warnement returning a kickoff to St. Paul's 46. Four plays later, Tyler Long broke through the Flyer defense for a 37-yard touchdown, his second of four rushing scores, and the Calvert rally had begun.
"Really what happened is, we regained our composure. We lost our composure" Calvert coach Todd Fox said. "Again, we go through the season up and down with learning lessons, and these guys have learned that way back in the season, that you got to keep and retain your composure, and we did that. They answered the call and they did a nice job with that."
"When we got going, we had good field position, we were just like, 'now we got to take it down and score,'" Long said. "Everybody, the lineman hit their blocks, everybody came together. The seniors said 'we need to get this done,' and that's what we did."
The big plays kept coming.
Derek Herzog forced a St. Paul fumble that Adam Recker recovered, and shortly before halftime, Dan Kwiat ran 42 yards, setting up a 2-yard touchdown run from Long as the Senecas went into the locker room even at 21.
"I think everything's a spark," Fox said. "Our guys feed off each other. The big thing is, they didn't let up. Our defense started answering the call a little bit. Our offense kept moving the ball. We just had a great game."
"We had a bunch of penalties, but we faced adversity in the season, coming in 6-4," Kwiat said. "We haven't had a perfect season, but we know how to come back from adversity, and we know we need to fight and stay together. And I believe we came together as a team and we took it together."
Coming out of the break, Calvert didn't let up. The first play from scrimmage in the second half, Kwiat rumbled 44 yards to set up the Senecas deep in St. Paul territory. Kwiat ended the drive by finding paydirt from 2 yards out to give Calvert its first lead of the night.
The senior appeared to be playing with a purpose, admitting after the game he wasn't ready to end his football career.
"It was definitely a thought in my head, I didn't want to finish. This is my senior year. I knew I had to go out big," he said.
Big might be an understatement. Kwiat rushed 26 times on the night for 224 yards.
"I was just cutting off the line," he said. "The line was blocking amazing. Holes were opening up; everyone came together as a team."
Calvert added to its lead the next time it had the ball with Long taking to the air, connecting with Bran Iannantuono on a 37-yard scoring toss. Long followed that up on Calvert's next possession with a 53-yard touchdown run as the lead ballooned to 42-21.
Long added 195 yards rushing as Calvert as a team totaled 503 yards rushing.
"That's the thing about our offensive line, from week 2 'til this, we start three sophomores and two juniors on our offensive line. So that maturity, and that was the big question coming into the season, so that offensive line did a nice job," Fox said. "They've done a nice job all year. It's nice to see them produce again in the big games."
Earlier in the week, St. Paul coach John Livengood called Long the key to the game. He said after that, the 1-2 punch of Long and Kwiat was too much on the night.
"I think a lot of that comes off what Kwiat does to set it up," he said when asked about Long's big night. "They were pounding Kwiat early and we were having a tough time just keeping him from gaining 5 yards. They set that up with Kwiat, then they'd pull it, Long pulls it, and we weren't where we needed to play defensively and he made us pay for it. He's a very good athlete with great speed and we couldn't match up with him."
St. Paul got a glimmer of hope, covering 51 yards in three plays. Smith scampered into the end zone from 3 yards out to cut the lead to 42-27.
But any thoughts of a comeback were erased on the ensuing kickoff. The kick sailed over Warnement's head and he admitted he was letting the ball go into the end zone. However, the ball stuck in the thick Whitney Field grass on the 5-yard line. Warnement picked it up and raced 95 yards for a touchdown.
"I was going to try to let it go in the end zone, but it didn't," Warnement said. "So I just picked it up and ran as fast as I could."
Brendan Deats intercepted St. Paul's Scottie Slauterbeck when the Flyers got the ball back. That was followed two plays later with an 81-yard touchdown run from Tim Puesey that iced the game.
"When we were down, we all came together and were like, 'we need to get this going,' so everybody just came together, and got fired up and took it to them," Long said. "I started breaking off some runs, then we got Dan in the game. Me and him were both going off each other and that's hard to stop. Then when Tim came in, they weren't expecting him to break off a nice run. He hit the hole and just went hard."
Calvert moves on from one rematch to another. After beating St. Paul for the second time on the season, the Senecas will face McComb, who bested them Week 1 at Frost-Kalnow Stadium.
An official time and location will be announced Sunday.