HAZELWOOD: 'Riders, Flyers gave us a game for the ages

Mark Hazelwood • Oct 20, 2019 at 9:38 PM

It’s human nature to typically find the worst in things.

We find the negative in football, whether it’s injury risk, or the lack of attendance and perceived ‘better things to do’ or ‘more options’ in this age of 2019.

But simply put, Saturday night’s 41-35 win by Western Reserve over St. Paul in overtime was beautiful to watch.

With that, here are 35 thoughts from Saturday’s epic Firelands Conference game that will be talked about for years to come by those who witnessed it.

1. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve spent days, if not weeks, hyping up a big game, only to be let down or disappointed. More times than not, the game will play out in straight forward fashion and not bring any late excitement.

2. But not this one. There were 11 ties or lead changes and 838 yards combined of total offense to go with the 76 points scored.

“The game lived up to it’s billing,” Western Reserve coach Ty Stevenson said. “Just a great high school football game. Our kids did a great job and I’m really proud of them. Their kids played really well, too … great game.”

3. Six weeks ago, I mentally circled this game after leaving Collins and watching Western lose, 34-27, to Edison. With respect to other area teams, there was a strong inclination on my end neither team would lose prior to Saturday.

4. To watch the Roughriders play, you’d never know they were 2-8 last season. They’ve got size, athleticism and skill at every position, and a good kicking game to go with it. They are a well put together team.

5. Typically a key play early has little meaning late — especially on a night when there were 11 touchdowns scored. But with the benefit of hindsight, how big was Tyler Ramage blocking the 25-yard field goal attempt from St. Paul on the opening drive?

While the game was back-and-forth throughout, St. Paul never did have the lead at any point of the 48-plus minutes. In theory, had the Flyers gotten a 3-0 lead, each subsequent score could and likely would have meant a lead, and perhaps certain things play out differently.

6. That leads me to Western getting a score on its fourth play from scrimmage. The 75-yard touchdown pass from Jude Muenz-to-Cory Hipp allowed the ‘Riders as the away team to play from in front.

7. It was interesting to see St. Paul counter with a TD pass on a third-and-9. Given the track record of both teams as run-dominant offenses, it was the passing game doing the early damage.

8. St. Paul coach John Livengood said it afterward, and he was right. Another huge sequence was the Flyers turning it over on downs at the Western 8-yard line midway through the second quarter. With the way both offenses were moving the ball, it was the first ‘blink’ by either team — and it was in the red zone.

9. Another thing no one saw coming: After Western got the turnover on downs, the ‘Riders were forced to punt. It proved to be the only punt of the entire game. Can’t say I saw that coming in a 6-1 vs. 7-0 matchup.

10. St. Paul’s scoring drive just before halftime was its best of the season from my view. Needing to go 66 yards in less than three minutes, the Flyers scored with 21 seconds left in the half when Myron Stoll ran in from six yards out to tie the game just before halftime.

11. Speaking of Stoll, he was just 22-of-38 passing in seven weeks. On that drive alone, the junior completed five straight passes 53 yards to move the Flyers right down the field. He was an impressive 13-of-16 for the game, totaling 165 yards with 2 TDs — and ran for 57 yards and the TD.

12. The obvious turn of events in regulation came midway through the third quarter. The Flyer defense had gotten just their second stop of the game, forcing standout running back Cody Benesh out of bounds two yards short on fourth down at the St. Paul 26 with 7:01 left in the third.

13. But not even a minute and three plays later, the first and only turnover of the game, was a costly fumble recovered by Western’s Carson Roe.

14. Benesh scored four plays into the ensuing drive, and Western was right back to playing from in front. Big, big sequence of events.

15. On that note, Benesh is very good. His ability to get tough yards and bust off runs to the outside is what makes him a difficult guard. But I came away almost more impressed with him on defense than offense — he was that impressive.

16. St. Paul again showed the ability to pass, with Stoll converting to Steven Deleon on fourth down, and found Jesse Ruffing for a 20-yard TD on a third down.

17. But just as quick, Western went right down the field to score again. That included a key 15-yard pass on third-and-6 from Muenz-to-JJ Weisenberger.

18. Justin Butler produced St. Paul’s longest play on offense with a 50-yard run to start the next drive, and just 81 seconds after Western went ahead, it was tied again after a short Cam Caizzo TD.

19. The ‘Riders turned to a heavy dose of Benesh and Muenz on the ground on their next score to go up 35-28. But even then, at 2:38 left in the game — it felt like they had left too much time.

20. They did. It also helped that the Flyers got a 49-yard field to work with. Caizzo’s 1-yard TD with 24 seconds left and the ensuing PAT by Tyler Perkins all but assured overtime.

21. Livengood almost always kicks the extra point — and why wouldn’t you with the run of kickers that program has seen for the last quarter century? But I’m sure the thought of going for two points and the win briefly crossed his mind — though that’s no easy call in that spot on a number of levels.

22. Perhaps a top 5 play in the game was Stoll being sacked on St. Paul’s second play of OT. Two snaps later, Perkins attempted a 40-yard field goal that hit the crossbar of the goalposts and bounced back on the field — that short.

23. Yes, Western went on to score a TD and win the game. However, had the kick been good, then it really meant the ‘Riders had to score a TD. The pressure of the situation would have changed.

24. In the end, the ‘Riders were able to bottle up the St. Paul run game just enough and make a key play every time they needed it. “Western is a very talented team that was able to control the line of scrimmage,” Livengood said. “I’d like to congratulate Coach Stevenson. He did a great job and his kids were prepared and played hard.”

25. I thought Western’s celebration was respectful. Their players weren’t throwing their helmets in the air or sliding across the field. Those kids were rightfully excited, but also respectful that they had just endured an absolute battle.

“There is nothing but the most respect for St. Paul, Coach Livengood and everything they do here,” Stevenson said after the game.

26. I’ve always been impressed with Stevenson from his days as an assistant coach at Norwalk and South Central. But what really stood out on Saturday was how quickly he was reeling his team in. Crestview (6-2, 4-1) is next, and there is a six-day turnaround with a lot at stake. From their perspective, the win last night was just as big for the Cougars as it was for Western.

27. Stevenson was quick to remind his team of that, “We have to be ready to go Monday with one less day turnaround. Enjoy today and tomorrow — but be ready to turn the page.”

28. There were so many quirks and streaks involved with the outcome. St. Paul’s last three FC losses are all to Western: Saturday, and again in 2011 and 2012.

29. Western had not beaten the Flyers since Week 6 of 2012, which is also the last time it made the playoffs. With Saturday’s win, the ‘Riders unofficially clinched a return to Week 11. Not only that, they are likely at home, and with a win over the Cougars — will be the No. 1 team in Div. VI Region 22.

30. Equally as impressive is marveling at the level St. Paul has played for so long. It had won 50 straight FC games overall. That was just the third regular season loss in the last 48 games.

31. Perhaps most impressive, the Flyers are now 83-5 in FC home games since first making the state playoffs in 1995. Four of those losses came by a single possession. That’s not having a good string of a class or two. That is full lifetimes worth of players who weren’t alive when it started, but have continued it to present day. Incredible level of commitment.

32. It was pretty neat to see Lars Livengood score the first TD of the game for St. Paul on the pass from Stoll. It’s obviously been very public that his family lost their home seven days prior in a house fire. He and his family have already been through a lot, and I won’t apologize for cracking a smile on that touchdown.

33. I will also smile every time I think back on this game. It was a hard-hitting classic, needed by both teams and the FC as a whole.

34. Also underrated and not found in the box score: The fundamental tackling and hard-hitting down in the trenches. I was down on the field and it was nearly every single play, just relentless play from both teams. This game really did have it all.

35. “I’m just so happy for our school and community,” Stevenson said. “Our kids have worked so hard … what a night, huh?”

What a night, indeed.

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