Calvert races past St. Paul

PHOTO BY JONATHON BIRD Calvert's Mitch Nielsen is upended by St Paul's Lars Livengood (3) and Noah Good during the first half Friday in Norwalk.

NORWALK — They were typical Norwalk St. Paul scores — powerful, efficient, dominant and spirit-breaking.

There was just one problem. Calvert’s spirit wasn’t broken.

Down 14-6 at half, the Senecas raced for three touchdowns and pounded for another in rallying for a 33-14 win at Whitney Field here Friday night.

“That’s one thing that I love about these young Calvert kids — they bend but they don’t break. Their spirit never dies,” Calvert coach Steve Reser said after his club improved to 3-0 while dropping St. Paul, a team often mentioned in small-school state championship discussions, to 2-1.

“A lot of it is realizing we can play with good football teams,” Reser said. “Even though we were down at halftime, I think they realized that we hurt ourselves a couple times in that first half.”

If the beginning didn’t frustrate them, nothing probably will.

The Flyers took the opening kick and drove 65 yards in 17 plays to open the scoring. When Cam Caizzo slammed in from a yard out for the touchdown, a little more than seven minutes had been consumed.

They rung up five first downs, converting on third down twice and fourth down once. Aside from Caizzo carries of 14 and 7 yards, the longest rushing play was 5 yards and there was a single pass completion for 8 yards.

It could have qualified as bullying.

And when the Senecas punted on their only possession of the first period, one could almost hear an uh-oh in three-part harmony.

But they answered the challenge before putting themselves in a challenging position once again.

Calvert was back on offense on its own 42 early in the second period and responded with a score of its own.

Austin Jones had four carries for 32 yards, one of them a 20-yard burst. And quarterback Trent Cooper hit a couple passes to Mitch Nielsen and capped the surge with an 11-yard keeper for a score.

It was the first of four scoring runs for the Seneca senior. Highlight efforts were coming later.

When the PAT attempt failed, Calvert was looking up at 7-6. And when St. Paul put together a 16-play drive, the Senecas seemed to have the stopper when Caizzo was buried on a fourth-and-3 play from the 20.

But on the first snap, a Flyer defender punched the ball out of Jones’ hands and linebacker Eric Crabbs caught it a advanced to the Seneca 9. Three plays later, Jake Griffin tossed a 3-yard TD pass to Jesse Ruffing for the 14-6 halftime edge.

Another challenge for the spirit.

“We just went into halftime knowing we still had a chance,” said Cooper, who ran for 177 yards on nine carries and competed six passes for 75 yards. “We just tried to get the energy up. Even though we were down in the first half, we knew we played well. We just weren’t executing everything.”

That all changed in the second half.

The Senecas matched St. Paul’s opening result by taking the second-half kick to the end zone. But they did it their way — with big plays. Jones (16 carries, 123 yards) had gains of 10 and 34 and Cooper picked up 12 to set up Aaron Rombach’s 1-yards touchdown run. Jones’ run for the extras tied it at 14-14.

Calvert forced a punt in a show of defensive strength as well.

“We just had to respond,” linebacker Josh Recker said. “We got our line fired up and tried to just all work together as a unit. The D-line handled their part, we filled some holes and gaps and the secondary came up. Everything’s a lot easier when everybody’s doing their part.”

So Calvert was on the run again with Cooper doing the honor with a 40-yard sprint to the end zone.

“I saw the end crash and I knew I could take it,” he said. “I felt I could outrun the secondary and that’s what happened. You can see the (season) stats. We’re getting a lot of (rushing) yards and you have to give credit to the O-line for that. They’re doing a great job.”

Now leading 20-14, the Senecas took on yet another punishing attack from the Flyers, who slammed 79 yards in what turned out to be a wasted opportunity.

That’s because, on fourth-and-goal from the 1, Nick Krajewski and Vinny Volpe combined to stop Caizzo for a 2-yard loss.

“We had so many big plays,” Reser said. “Krajewski, Volpe, Josh Recker, (Nic) Somodi, Jones, Rombach, every time I mention a name, the more I realize what a great whole-team effort that was on defense.”

St. Paul coach John Livengood noticed as well.

“The key thing was for them to come out and score on that first drive,” he said. “We needed to regain the momentum and we weren’t able to do that. Then we (later) got inside the 10 and failed to convert. When they came back and scored, that’s when things got tense.”

That’s because Cooper got loose. He had a 6-yard pickup, hit passes of 40 yards to Somodi and 12 to Nick Seifert and eventually scored on a 3-yard keeper to push the margin to 26-14 with 4:43 to go.

And if that wasn’t enough, Krajewski came up with another key stop at the Calvert 4. Two plays later, Cooper had his best run of the night, a 93-yard sprint to turn the game into a rout.

“Everything that’s happened, the past injuries that I’ve had all just came out of there and it felt so good,” Cooper said.

“I felt like we did a lot of good things in the first half but we still missed on some things,” Livengood said. “But we still were control of things. They grabbed control of things in the third quarter. You have to give credit to them and their coaching staff. They did a great job.”

It proved to be a remarkable turnaround from a pair of losses to the Flyers a year ago, one of them a 45-7 drubbing in the playoffs.

To get on the top side this time was “the best feeling I’ve ever had,” Recker said. “I’m not kidding.”

No Seneca was on this night.