But with exceptional play in all three phases, St. Paul blew the doors off visiting Mapleton in the third quarter of Friday’s Firelands Conference showdown in Norwalk.
Leading 14-13 at halftime, the Flyers immediately scored to start the second half — then got exceptional special teams play and timely defense to outscore the Mounties 28-0 in a 12-plus minute span of a 49-27 win at Whitney Field.
With the win, St. Paul — ranked No. 10 along with the Mounties in the latest Division VII Associated Press poll — improved to 6-1 overall and 4-0 in the FC. The Mounties fell to 5-2, 3-1.
The win extends the Flyers’ FC winning streak to 43 games, and gives them a big boost in computer points as well.
Since its first state playoff season in 1995, St. Paul is now 81-4 in 85 home FC games.
“The drive to start the second half was big momentum for sure,” said St. Paul senior receiver and defensive back Eric Crabbs — one of seven playing in their final regular season home game.
“It all started as freshmen, we had never lost a Firelands Conference game, and we wanted to keep that going,” Crabbs said. “We won every home game all four years in the league, and that’s something to be proud of — but we still have three weeks to go.”
St. Paul opened the second half with a 12-play, 60-yard scoring drive that featured three third-down conversions. Cam Caizzo scored the second of his three touchdowns from eight yards out, and the third of seven Jake Griffin PATs gave the Flyers a 21-13 lead with 7:08 left in the third quarter.
Things then fell apart on the Mounties.
The Flyers forced a three-and-out on the next possession, then sophomore Jesse Ruffing blocked the Mapleton punt and gave St. Paul the ball at the Mounties’ 24-yard line.
The very next play, Griffin found a wide open Crabbs to cover that distance — and in a 1:12 span, the lead had swelled to 28-13.
Forced to punt again after another three-and-out, this time St. Paul’s Gavin Starcher returned it up the Mapleton sideline 46 yards, weaving through defenders while staying inbounds. That gave St. Paul the ball at the Mapleton 3, and Noah Good covered that distance the very next play for a 35-13 lead with 4:27 left in the third.
Sensing desperation, Mapleton then had fourth-and-1 at its own 40 on the next drive — and All-Ohio quarterback Logan Pharmer was stopped for no gain. Eight plays later, Caizzo scored from two yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter for a 42-13 lead.
“In championship-type games, every point counts and field position is huge,” St. Paul coach John Livengood said. “The blocked punt was huge to get great field position and keep the momentum going after a good scoring drive.
“Our special teams is something we take a lot of pride in and we work real hard at it,” he added. “And our kids executed it really well tonight.”
Pharmer scored on a 15-yard run with 6:11 left in the game, then the Mounties recovered an onside kick as well. Pharmer then led them down the field in three plays, finding Kaleb Stafford for a 12-yard TD pass to make it a 42-27 margin with 5:19 left.
But Crabbs recovered the next onside attempt, and the Flyers put the game away with a quick 52-yard scoring drive — with Good going across from a yard out with 4:09 left.
“We came out with some fire and grabbed the momentum for sure,” Crabbs said of the second half start. “Even though I should have had the onside kick — that was my fault. That gave them some spark, but we came right back and punched back.”
Mapleton went right down the field to start the game, moving 66 yards in seven plays. Pharmer ran in from 13 yards out for a 6-0 lead at the 8:31 mark of the opening quarter.
But St. Paul responded with a quick 5-play, 54-yard drive as Good went across from a yard out again for a 7-6 lead. After getting a defensive stop, Caizzo went 65 yards for a TD on St. Paul’s first offensive play of the next drive — extending the lead to 14-6 at the 4:34 mark of the first.
Mapleton then put together a lengthy 14-play, 80-yard scoring drive when Ethan Hartley hauled in a nice catch for an 18-yard TD pass from Pharmer, and the PAT made it 14-13 with 10:25 left in the second — which is where things stood at halftime.
“I felt like in the first half we had penalties stall a couple of scoring chances, but in the second half we made a few blocking adjustments and continued to pound the ball and were able to finish drives,” Livengood said. “We fortunately able to expand the lead there in the third.
“You can never take your foot off the gas with Mapleton,” he added. “They are as well-coached and skilled of a team as we play.
Caizzo ran 21 times for 204 yards and three scores, with Good adding 87 yards and 2 TDs on 17 attempts for St. Paul. Griffin was 4-of-6 passing for 38 yards, with Crabbs catching two passes for 27 yards. Gavin Starcher added 45 yards rushing and the big punt return.
Pharmer finished 17-of-29 passing for 223 yards with 2 TDs and an interception — by Crabbs late in the game. He also ran 16 times for 65 yards and two scores.
There is little time to rest for the Flyers, who visit South Central (6-1, 3-1) in another game that will have FC and playoff implications next Friday.
Mapleton 6 7 0 14 — 27
St. Paul 14 0 21 14 — 49
MAP — Logan Pharmer 13 run (kick failed)
STP — Noah Good 1 run (Jake Griffin kick)
STP — Cam Caizzo 65 run (Griffin kick)
MAP — Ethan Hartley 18 pass from Pharmer (Ricardo Gamarro Espinel kick)
STP — Caizzo 8 run (Griffin kick)
STP — Eric Crabbs 24 pass from Griffin (Griffin kick)
STP — Good 3 run (Griffin kick)
STP — Caizzo 2 run (Griffin kick)
MAP — Pharmer 15 run (Espinel kick)
MAP — Kaleb Stafford 12 pass from Pharmer (Espinel kick)
STP — Good 1 run (Griffin kick)