The St. Paul football team totaled more than 400 yards of offense, intercepted three passes and forced a turnover on downs in the red zone in Saturday’s Division VII first-round playoff game vs. Edon.
But senior running back Cam Caizzo believes the 35-21 win by the state-ranked Flyers at Whitney Field in Norwalk was won five days earlier. St. Paul (9-2) — which advanced to face Patrick Henry (8-3) in the second round at 7 p.m. Saturday in Fremont — had closed the regular season with a jarring 13-0 loss to Monroeville at home on Nov. 2.
“We had all the captains and the seniors talk to the team on Monday,” said Caizzo, who had a career night against Edon. “It was just to make sure that we showed some resilience after that loss and to bring that effort to practice. We all knew we had something to prove.
“We could either pack our bags, fold and go home, or we could keep going, keep working hard and beat Edon,” he added. “Our backs were against the wall. We knew we had to give it our all, and that’s what we did.”
Caizzo ran 37 times for 276 yards and all five touchdowns for the Flyers, who finished No. 9 in the final Associated Press state poll.
St. Paul never trailed — but also never quite put the Bombers (7-4) away until under five minutes remained in the game.
On Edon’s second play from scrimmage, junior Adam Baker intercepted a Drew Gallehue pass at the Edon 32. Quarterback Myron Stoll connected with Lars Livengood for an 11-yard gain on a fourth-and-5 from the 27, and four Caizzo rushes later — the last from two yards out — resulted in a touchdown.
The first of five extra points from Tyler Perkins made it 7-0 at the 5:10 mark of the first quarter.
Edon’s next drive was promising, but Gallehue was intercepted by Stoll one efense at the St. Paul 29. After the Flyers fumbled it back to the Bombers, Edon proceeded to move the ball inside the St. Paul 20 on 10 plays.
But facing a fourth-and-7 from the St. Paul 16, Gallehue couldn’t find an open receiver, and was forced to scramble and was tackled for a loss of a yard and a turnover on downs at the 17 with 9:57 left in the first half.
The Flyers then put together an impressive 11-play, 83-yard scoring drive that took another 4:27 off the clock. Met with little resistance, St. Paul had just one third down — a 25-yard run by Caizzo — on the drive that featured 11 rushes by Caizzo and Justin Butler.
Caizzo followed his blocking for a 4-yard TD run with 5:30 left in the half for a 14-0 lead.
But like it did most of the night, Edon answered to stay in the game. The Bombers got a solid kick return to their 49, then proceeded to put together a critical 11-play, 51-yard scoring drive as Dylan Mason scored from a yard out with just 22 seconds left in the half.
The pass for two points failed off the hold, but the Bombers had momentum with a 14-6 halftime deficit and possession of the ball to begin the third quarter.
However, the Flyer defense forced a three-and-out, while Caizzo capped a 14-play, 63-yard scoring drive that Caizzo capped when he was able to extend the ball over the line for a 6-yard TD run and a 21-6 lead at the 2:59 mark of the third.
It was short-lived, however. Edon’s Chase Reed returned the ensuing kickoff 73 yards for a TD, and Gallehue ran in the conversion. Just nine seconds later, the deficit was 21-14 for the Bombers.
“Coach (Scott) Staten does a great job, and you could see in scouting them on film they were a team that played hard — and that’s exactly what we saw,” St. Paul coach John Livengood said of Edon. “They were physical, quick and got after it.
“I’m proud of our kids for how they came out and played against a good team,” he added. “They bounced back. They had that adversity last week when things didn’t go our way, but it’s how you respond. We responded the right way.”
After both teams traded possessions, the Flyers got the ball at the Edon 40 after the Bombers punted from their own end zone. Five plays later, Caizzo went right up the middle on an 11-yard TD run — his fourth of the game — and the lead was 28-14 with 9:17 left.
But still, the Bombers responded. They quickly moved 61 yards in seven plays, needing just 2:27 to cover the distance as Gallehue connected on two deep passes, then ran in a TD from five yards out with 6:50 left. Tatum Schaffter made the PAT for a 28-21 deficit.
After the Bombers attempted an onside kick, Caizzo capped his night in big fashion.
With the ball at the St. Paul 46, the senior found a seem and got free for a 50-yard run to the Edon 4. A pair of 2-yard runs, the last for his fifth TD with 5:54 left, pushed the lead back up to two scores less than a minute later at 35-21.
“The linemen played hard and were opening holes all night to run through,” Caizzo said. “We all knew this was our last game that we would have on Whitney Field. We wanted to leave on a high note.”
With two more chances to get closer, Edon turned it over on downs at the St. Paul 30, and Lars Livengood intercepted a pass at the St. Paul 39 with 31 seconds left.
“They did a good job possessing the ball, but our defense really came up with some key stops when we needed them,” Coach Livengood said.
Livengood also commended his seniors for taking charge on Monday, helping the Flyers improve to 41-19 all-time in 60 playoff games as a result.
“I can’t say enough about all of our seniors this week,” he said. “The leadership they displayed on Monday — we spent more time talking than we did watching film or doing any kind of preparation. We talked and regrouped and all of our seniors did a great job with that. Really proud of them.
“In regards to Cam’s effort, he’d be the first to tell you that’s the result of everybody doing their job on the team,” Livengood added. “The guys up front and the receivers were blocking for him, but Cam always gives such a great effort. He runs with desire. He’s tough, fast and is a physical player.”
Butler added 57 yards on 12 attempts for St. Paul, while Stoll was 6-of-11 passing for 57 yards — which included five passes to Lars Livengood for 57 yards.
Gallehue 11-of-21 for 116 yards passing with three interceptions and ran 14 times for 51 yards and a TD. Mason added 45 yards on 15 attempts and a score, and Kelby Sapp had five catches for 71 yards.
Livengood and his staff will have some homework this week with the Patriots — the No. 10-ranked team in the AP poll that advanced with a 26-14 win vs. Arlington.
But like the Flyers (21 playoff appearances), the Patriots are no stranger to the playoffs with a 28-16 record in 18 appearances to date.
“We saw them live once, but we’ve never played them and don’t know a lot about them,” Livengood said. “We do know they are a great program with a strong history in the playoffs. Most importantly, it’s another week for our kids to be together. It’s an opportunity for these kids to stay together another week.”
Meanwhile, Caizzo was asked if the Flyers proved anything in Saturday’s win.
“I don’t think we showed ourselves anything,” he said. “I knew that our team could do this. Now we all know we can do it, and I hope we can make a deep run off of this.”
Edon 0 6 8 7 — 21
St. Paul 7 7 7 14 — 35
STP — Cam Caizzo 2 run (Tyler Perkins kick)
STP — Caizzo 4 run (Perkins kick)
EDO — Dylan Mason 1 run (pass failed)
STP — Caizzo 6 run (Perkins kick)
EDO — Chase Reed 73 kick return (Drew Gallahue run)
STP — Caizzo 11 run (Perkins kick)
EDO — Gallahue 5 run (Tatum Schaffter kick)
STP — Caizzo 2 run (Perkins kick)