Saturday night in Norwalk was a familiar sight for the St. Paul football team.
Just not one typically reserved for a playoff game.
The Flyers have long made things tough on Firelands Conference visitors at home on Saturday nights, but this time humbled visiting Southington Chalker (5-6) in a Division VII first-round game by a 55-7 score.
With the win, St. Paul (10-1) — ranked No. 8 in the final Associated Press poll — advances to face Wellsville (9-2) at a neutral site next Saturday. Wellsville beat FC foe Mapleton, 39-21.
The Flyers — who won their first playoff game since hoisting the Division VI championship trophy in 2009 — scored eight first-half touchdowns to remove all doubt early. St. Paul is also 8-2 all-time in home playoff games in the first round.
Veteran coach John Livengood started his junior varsity players for the second half, and repeatedly took a knee to avoid scoring again. All told, the 24-minute second half took just 29 actual minutes to complete.
“We came out and played well. The kids wanted to build off what they did in the regular season, and it was a nice opening round win,” Livengood said. “What you want to see is come out and see your team execute in a playoff game, and I was real pleased with that. Everyone was able to contribute and do a nice job.”
In 2001, Chalker's first-ever playoff appearance was a 53-6 loss at Tiffin Calvert. It wasn't much better on Saturday.
Things started ominously for the Wildcats, who made a 107-mile trip to Norwalk, as St. Paul blocked a punt attempt less than two minutes into the game on the opening possession. Starting out at the Chalker 4-yard line, St. Paul's Jesse Gross walked in for the first touchdown on the Flyers' first offensive play, and Scottie Slauterbeck's first of seven PATs made it 7-0 just 1:34 into the game.
St. Paul added two more touchdowns in the next seven minutes, as Slauterbeck found a wide open Bob Harwood for a 17-yard touchdown pass at the 7:25 mark of the first quarter, and running back Brad Smith ripped of fa 57-yard scoring run with 2:59 left to make it 21-0.
The Wildcats then responded with their lone score of the night, as quarterback Austin Casper found fullback Brendan Baugher on a screen pass, and Baugher broke a tackle and outran two defenders on a 80-yard touchdown catch at the 2:31 mark to make it 21-7.
In the second quarter, St. Paul added touchdowns by Jared Nickoli (5-yard run), a 3-yard pass from Slauterbeck to Harwood, a 2-yard run by Nickoli and scoring runs of 17 and 5 by Gross.
In the first half, St. Paul ran 23 times for 247 yards (10.7 average) and six touchdowns.
“The key for us is to know what we need to do, which is just drive the defenders off the ball as far as we can,” Flyer senior captain and offensive tackle Eddie Simon said. “We like doing it. When we see our backs score like that, it gets us pumped up for the next drive that we eventually have. With us opening up the holes, we're making their jobs a little easier.”
Chalker was limited to five yards rushing on 22 attempts, and -24 yards net on the ground. Casper finished 6-of-18 passing for 122 yards and a touchdown, with Baugher catching two passes for 88 yards and the lone score.
“We did a nice job shutting down their running game and the wishbone they like to run,” Livengood said. “And at the same time we were able to establish our running game, so just a really solid night for us.”
St. Paul got 130 yards and a TD from Smith on just seven attempts. Gross added 79 yards and three touchdowns on 10 attempts, while Nickoli added 38 yards and two TDs on six attempts. Slauterbeck was 4-of-7 passing for 36 yards and two TDs, with Harwood catching two touchdown passes for a total of 20 yards.