ATTICA - Only 15 miles separate Calvert High School from Seneca East High School, but after this year, the distance between them will seem immeasurable.
With the two longtime Midland Athletic League rivals heading to different conferences at the close of the school year, Friday's encounter was the final time for the foreseeable future the two would meet on the gridiron.
With Calvert putting up 14 points before Seneca East's offense took the field, the Senecas seemed poised for their third-straight win over their rivals.
Not this year.
The final MAL encounter between the two went to the Tigers.
After 21 first quarter points, Calvert was kept off the scoreboard until the final minute. Meanwhile, Seneca East's offense worked its way up and down the field and the defense chipped in with two touchdowns of its own, all culminating in a 34-28 Seneca East win.
"It feels good to leave Calvert like that," Seneca East's Alex Scheiber said. "It feels really good, after a big loss last year, we were up and we lost after that storm and it felt good to come back this year and beat them."
"The first quarter didn't turn out to good; they came out 14-0. It was looking bad really early," Tiger quarterback Ethan Caudill added. "Thankfully we were able to come back, overcome adversity and get this win."
For Tiger coach Ed Phillips the sweetness of the victory came from beating a team expected to be fighting for the league title.
"It's the best feeling in the world," he said. "Because at the beginning of the season you look at teams and as a coach you think, 'Who's a team that can do it? Who's a team that can win the league?' And they were one of them. They're 1-4 right now but they lost to four really good football teams. It's exciting for us and our kids right now."
Calvert controlled the early portion of the game, taking the opening possession 64 yards before Tyler Long powered in the game's first score from 6 yards out. Instead of kicking the ball over to the Tigers, Calvert went with an onside kick which Austin Prenzlin pounced upon. No too long after, Austin Ball scampered in from 6 yards out and Calvert had a quick 14-0 lead.
"No, that's not the way we wanted to start," Phillips said. "I felt like our kids were ready. I tell you what makes it difficult, when you got a guy like (Long) over there. You can prepare and prepare, but when you get on the field and you see how fast he is and how he slices through there, you don't really have on your scout team guys that can simulate that."
Once Caudill and the Tiger offense got on the field, they were ready to get going.
The Tigers marched down the field, covering 56 yards in eight plays with Caudill connecting with Adam Hall from 10 yards out to get his team on the scoreboard.
Seneca East then recovered an onside kick of its own, but an official ruling gave the ball to Calvert. However, two plays later, Scheiber scooped up a Calvert fumble and sprinted 40 yards for a touchdown to tie the game.
After the game, Caudill admitted it was important for his team to come up with an answer once the offense was able to get on the field.
"I think I looked at the clock and there was five minutes left in the first quarter and we hadn't touched the ball yet," he said. "Our offense did great, driving down the field. That first drive was huge for us to get the score. Then Alex tied it back up with that fumble, it was great."
Calvert retook the lead on a 32-yard pitch-and-catch from Long to Michael Smith and the Senecas blocked a punt on Seneca East's next possession.
But another Calvert fumble gave it back to Seneca East and let the Tigers claw back even.
On the first play, Caudill found Scheiber streaking down the middle of the field for a 31-yard touchdown, and a 21-21 game.
Scheiber said getting turnovers was something the team worked on in practice.
"We've been working on it all week, finger-peeling and pulling the ball out and making big plays on defense," he said. "It helped us out tonight."
After 42 points were scored in the game's first 16 minutes, the defenses were able to step up and control things into the latter portions of the third quarter, when Caudill gave his team its first lead on a 4-yard pass to Isaac Phillips.
Turnovers then came back to bite Calvert. Two plays after getting the ball back, Brayden Walker jumped in front of a pass and ran 15 yards for a Tiger touchdown.
"You just can't turn the ball over," Calvert coach Todd Fox said. "We talked about that going in, it's been our Achilles heel all year. And you can't turn the ball over. They didn't have any turnovers; we had (five). And you lose by a touchdown. And they scored two of those, two times off our turnovers. You can't beat yourself. We've been doing that each and every week. And that's on me. Somewhere I got to revisit myself and see what I'm doing wrong and try to get these guys to buy in and finish the year."
Calvert racked up 209 yards of offense in the first half. The Senecas got the ball back down 34-21 with 4:24 to play. To that point in the second half, the Seneca East defense had allowed them only 18 yards.
"They were lights out; they were unreal," Phillips said of his defense. "I saw defensive linemen knifing through there making plays, linebackers too. I don't know many times Josh Waggoner knifed through there and had tackles for loss, but he made a lot of them."
Caudill threw for 140 yards and rushed for 60. Scheiber rushed for 52 and caught 50 yards worth of passes. Both passed on the credit to their line.
"Our line gave us some good blocks and made some holes," Scheiber said. "It worked out the defense was in the right spot to get blocked."
"Our line really controlled the line of scrimmage," Caudill added. "They gave me time to pass the ball and gave Alex some holes."
Calvert tacked on its final score with 50 seconds to go on a Long TD pass to Corbin Kantner. But a final onside kick was recovered by Seneca East, and for perhaps the final time against Calvert, the Tigers closed out the game.