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St. Paul-Calvert has been matchup of small-school heavyweights

Mark Hazelwood • Updated Nov 7, 2017 at 11:19 PM

A great game for a long period of time.

That is the best way to describe the Tiffin Calvert vs. St. Paul series, which since 1993 was only interrupted briefly in 2015.

The Senecas and Flyers played a handful of times in the 1950s, then again in a four-year series from 1977-80.

The two programs then met in Week 2 in every season from 1993-2014. Calvert’s brief move to the Toledo Area Athletic Conference caused the game to be removed from the schedule in 2015, but it was quickly back on the schedule in each of the past two seasons, though moved to Week 3.

St. Paul won the matchup this season on Sept. 8, a 23-7 win in Tiffin. The two teams will rematch again at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Division VII Region 26 second-round game at Don Paul Stadium in Fremont.

Calvert won all four meetings from 1977-80 in decisive fashion, as the Senecas were in the midst of their best stretch in program history. They made three straight state semifinals from 1979-81 — capped by back-to-back state championships in 1980 and 1981.

When the series resumed in 1993, however, the start of the dynasty under John Livengood was just taking off at St. Paul.

The Flyers won the first five meetings from 1993-97 by an average margin of victory of 29 points. But with former St. Mary Central Catholic and Edison coach Toby Hammond taking control of the Senecas program, it was Calvert turning the tables with a 42-15 win in 1998 and a 34-13 win in 1999.

The Senecas reached the state semifinals in 1998, and the Flyers advanced to the Div. VI state championship game in 1999 — with both teams falling to Delphos St. John’s and its blitzkrieg three-peat run.

A blowout St. Paul win in 2000 was again countered when the Senecas won a pair of low-scoring, 7-0 and 7-3 wins in 2001 and 2002. With Hammond gone, the Flyers then took control of the series again, also winning by an average of 29 points in six of the next seven years through 2009.

Willard graduate Todd Fox then took over at Calvert in 2010, and was able to guide the Senecas to four straight wins in the series through 2012 — including a big 56-27 win in the first round of the Div. VI playoffs in 2012.

St. Paul won a thrilling 21-14 overtime win in 2013 in Tiffin, then followed with a 56-20 blowout in 2014 in Norwalk on the way to the Div. VII state title game.

After the one-year reprieve, the two teams played another thriller last season. St. Paul let a 24-7 lead slip away in the fourth quarter, but stopped the Senecas inside their own 30 as time expired in a 24-19 win.

The Flyers led this year’s game 13-0 until Calvert scored on the first play of the fourth quarter. St. Paul countered with a field goal and TD by Joey Catalano and Thane Crabbs to close out the scoring.

St. Paul was limited to 169 rushing yards in the win, but senior quarterback Nick Lukasko was 6-of-9 for 151 yards and a TD — with all six completions going for either a first down or a touchdown.

St. Paul leads the series since 1993 by a 16-9 margin — though dating back to 1958 over the past 30 meetings, it’s a tight 16-14 edge.

While Livengood has coached in all 25 games for St. Paul since 1993, the Senecas have had six different coaches over the same span: Terry Mark, Hammond, Pat Herron, Keenan Leichty, former New London coach Jim Kubuske and Fox.

“I think about when Toby Hammond was there in the 1990s, and Terry Mark before that,” Livengood said. “Obviously Todd has done a great job there, so they have had great coaching and great teams all the way through.

“It has almost always been a close, competitive game,” he added. “It’s two good programs who are often in the playoffs battling it out each year.”

Since the series resumed in 1993, St. Paul has made the playoffs 19 times, including each of the last six seasons. That includes a 38-17 overall record in the playoffs with seven regional championships, four state runners-ups (1997, 1999, 2004, 2014) and a state title in 2009.

In the same span, the Senecas have been in the playoffs 11 times — including each of the last seven years under Fox.

“John and I are really good friends, and even as a wrestling coach (at Willard), I always admired how he runs that program and how the kids respond to him,” Fox said. “In my coaching career, I like to research guys like that. When I started coaching against him, there was some apprehension — because I knew how great he was.

“But once you get into the games, it becomes more of an appreciation, because you know it will be a great game and they have prepped their kids to have a great game,” he added.

Fox noted that the dramatic finish in the 24-19 game last season is what the series has been about for him.

“What I relay to my coaches is we have to dot our I’s and cross our T’s this week, because if we miss something, they will find it,” he said. “Last year’s game was incredible — and it’s been a fun series of competition with each other. Obviously we did this in the playoffs in 2012 and Friday is another repeat of that.”

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