But in recent years, it sure hasn’t felt that way when the St. Paul football team takes on Tiffin Calvert — coached by a familiar area face.
The Flyers (2-0) and Senecas (1-1) again meet at 7 p.m. Friday at Frost-Kalnow Stadium in Tiffin. The Senecas have advanced to the playoffs for six straight seasons, and the Flyers have done so over five consecutive years.
Overall, the St. Paul and Calvert programs have combined for 33 playoff appearances with three state championships, four runners-ups and 11 regional championships. Both teams are again big favorites to win their respective leagues.
“We approach every game the same way, but I would expect they would be as ramped up for this as they have been for any other game,” St. Paul coach John Livengood said of his team. “Obviously there is a little more on the line, because they realize the caliber of Calvert. I would expect their focus will be even better than it has been — but it’s a tough game and a tough environment to play in Tiffin.”
The Senecas are coached by Todd Fox, a 1991 Willard graduate. After turning the Crimson Flashes wrestling program into a state power, Fox has guided the Senecas to a 49-34 record entering Friday’s matchup.
His Calvert teams have a 4-3 record against St. Paul.
“Coach Fox always does a great job with his kids, he’s someone I have a lot of respect for,” Livengood said. “He does a great job with his program. Talent-wise, I think he feels pretty good about the kids that he has.
“From watching them on film and seeing them live against Hopewell-Loudon (21-12 win on Aug. 25), they have some really nice skilled kids, a very accurate passer and decent size on the offensive line,” he added. “On the defensive line, they’ve kind of gotten away from the size aspect and gone more with quickness. But they’ve got kids that can run everywhere, and this is a pretty athletic team that is obviously well-coached in what they do.”
Last year’s matchup between the Senecas and Flyers had a little bit of everything — producing one of the more entertaining games in the series.
After a 45-minute lightening delay, it appeared to be all St. Paul, as it jumped out to a 24-7 lead with eight minutes left in the third quarter. The Flyers were driving for more when they fumbled at the Calvert 6-yard line.
The Senecas then then scored a TD, recovered an onside kick, scored again — then had the ball in the final minute down just 24-19. Calvert then drove the ball inside the St. Paul 30, and ran out of time at the 19.
“You look back at last year’s game and it was a good example of not finishing things off,” Livengood said. “We’re up 24-7 in the third quarter, but they make a ballgame out of it. They had grabbed all the momentum based off of our fumble. We weren’t able to regain it and were hanging on for our lives at the end.
“That shows you how quickly a game can turn and how important it is not to turn the ball over — and shows how important it is to play great special teams,” he added. “Those are two things we didn’t necessarily do great last week. We turned the ball over three times and muffed an onside kick that we had prepared for.”
After a 44-0 win in the season opener against visiting St. Mary Central Catholic, the Flyers went to Fremont and blasted St. Joseph C.C., 42-7.
Through two games, St. Paul has 598 yards and 9 TDs on the ground on just 97 attempts (6.2 average). Perhaps more importantly, senior quarterback Nick Lukasko is 11-of-16 passing for 267 yards with 2 TDs.
“Our experience and talent level is pretty good, but there are areas we still need to get better at,” Livengood said. “I think Nick is throwing the ball really well. He’s been real efficient and making good decisions coming off his primary reads to his second and sometimes third reads. He’s seeing the field real well.
“I think defensively we’re playing real well,” he added. “We did very well against a St. Joseph team that in my opinion, is a very scary team with a lot of weapons and speed. We were able to really limit what they could do and kept them out of the end zone all but one time. To hold them to seven points is a very good thing.”
The Senecas are coming off a 20-6 loss at Pandora-Gilboa, but still pose plenty of challenges. Calvert returned 16-of-22 starters from last season’s 6-4 playoff team. The Senecas are led by QB Park Hemminger, who threw for 2,160 yards and 28 TDs in 2016, along with running back Austin Jones (643 yards, 8 TDs) and receiver Robbie Paul (480 yards, 6 TDs).
“Playing a Coach Fox team, you’re going to see all kinds of different things,” Livengood said. “We have to prepare our kids for any possible scenario, because we know that’s what he does. He’s going to throw the kitchen sink at you when it comes to preparation.
“We need to make sure we’re on our toes and that our kids execute the things that we prepare them for — much better than last week,” he added. “We just a lot of little things to clean up and improve on. We’re not anywhere near as good as we’re capable of being in my opinion. There is a lot of room to improve yet.”