It is hard to tell by the final score, but the Eagles were within striking distance with about five minutes left in the third quarter of Saturday’s season opener at Tiffin Calvert.
But in the blink of an eye, the Senecas exploded for consecutive touchdowns.
Calvert poured it on late in the 59-27 win on Saturday at Frost-Kalnow Stadium in Tiffin.
"They hit us with a lot of big plays," Monroeville coach Scott Stecher said. "They are a big-play team. They have athletes. They have four athletes that can burn you in space, and we knew that coming in here."
In the third quarter, a muffed punt by the Senecas (1-0) gave the Eagles new life at the Calvert 45-yard line. After a short rush, Dominic Ruffing picked up 13 yards for a first down. Then, Adam Rogers exploded through the line and scored from 27 yards out. The two-point conversion pass from Chayce Schaub to Avery Kluding was good — and the Eagles were within 30-27.
But, Calvert was prepared and ready.
Nic Somodi returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown to revive the Senecas. Their two-point conversion pass from Trent Cooper to Nick Seifert was successful for a 38-27 lead.
As if that did not deflate the Eagles enough, a fumble on the ensuing kickoff was recovered by the Senecas. It took Calvert just five plays — the last a 6-yard run from All-Ohioan Austin Jones — to score and increase the lead to 45-27 after an extra point.
Just like that, Monroeville was in trouble.
"Two big plays in a row without any action is huge," Calvert coach Steve Reser said. "The momentum swing already on the kickoff return ... when you come back with another turnover like that and we capitalize, that was a dagger to the heart."
The Eagles went back to work and took 5:40 off the clock over a series of 11 plays, but the drive was halted when Ruffing was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-1 at the Calvert 21.
Jones, who was held to five carries for 30 yards in the first half, took the handoff on the next play and split two defenders and saw nothing but the end zone for a 79-yard TD and a 52-27 lead with 8:46 left.
Jones added a 43-yard TD run after Monroeville punted. Calvert's last four touchdown drives took just 3:09 off the clock with three of the four being 17 seconds or less.
"There were some times in the first half when the game got sticky," Reser said. "I know we had some nice scores early and started to separate, but we let them back in the game a little bit."
It was the Senecas that jumped on Monroeville early on.
Quarterback Trent Cooper faked a pitch and went up the left sideline for a 46-yard touchdown to open the game's scoring. Later, Nick Krajewski intercepted Schaub and returned it 37 yards to put Calvert up 14-0 less than 10 minutes into the game.
Isaiah Scheid scored from seven yards out before Jones' first touchdown — this one a 30-yard run — maintained the Calvert lead to 22-6. But, the Eagles used a bit of trickery and a bit of luck on their next drive.
Facing fourth-and-7 at the Calvert 45, Monroeville opted for a fake punt which resulted in a 21-yard gain by Ruffing. Three plays later, Scheid burst through the line and appeared to be in the clear for the easy touchdown. But, the ball was stripped just before the goal line. But thankfully for the Eagles, lineman Roger Smith jumped on the loose ball for the score.
"We ran the ball on them," Stecher said. "They had a hard time stopping our run. When you play this kind of football, you can not make mistakes. When you allow that many big plays, credit to them, you come out on top."
Monroeville kept the momentum going when Ben Schafer intercepted Cooper on a screen pass, giving the Eagles great field position inside the Calvert 40. Five plays later, Ruffing scored on a 17-yard run and Mason Hiser's extra point brought the Eagles within 22-19 at halftime.
"We let them take that momentum back for a little while," Reser said. "We did not talk about any adjustments playing-wise. We talked about digging a little deeper."
Ruffing led the Eagles with 202 yards on the ground on 27 rushes. Monroeville had just 32 yards passing.
"Dominic is a key for us," Stecher said. "He got a little dinged up, so hopefully he is OK. It is a back by committee. Our time of possession was there. We just gave up too many big plays."
Jones finished with 14 carries for 202 yards while Cooper ran 10 times for 102 yards.
Saturday’s game was the first meeting between the two programs in 29 years. The Eagles and Senecas played yearly from 1986-89, with Monroeville winning three of the four.
The Eagles will remain on the Saturday night schedule for another week when they visit St. Mary Central Catholic at Strobel Field in Sandusky this week.
"We just have to go back to the drawing board," Stecher said. "I think we are in good shape. I told the kids that the only thing not in our reach is an undefeated season. It’s one game."
Monroeville 0 19 8 0 — 27
Tiffin Calvert 14 8 23 14 — 59
CAL — Trent Cooper 16 run (Austin Jones run)
CAL — Nick Krajewski 37 interception return (pass failed)
MON — Isaiah Scheid 7 run (kick failed)
CAL — Jones 30 run (Cooper run)
MON — Roger Smith 1 fumble recovery (run failed)
MON — Dominic Ruffing 17 run (Mason Hiser kick)
CAL — Cooper 4 run (Jones pass from Cooper)
MON — Adam Rogers 27 run (Avery Kluding pass from Chayce Schaub)
CAL — Nic Somodi 80 kickoff return (Nick Seifert pass from Cooper)
CAL — Jones 6 run (Quinten Ronski kick)
CAL — Jones 79 run (Ronski kick)
CAL — Jones 43 run (Ronski kick)