Pandora-Gilboa senior Carter Nofziger (9) shows off the Region 26 regional trophy after the Rockets fell to Norwalk St. Paul in the regional finals Friday night. (Putnam Sentinel/Charlie Warnimont)
Pandora-Gilboa senior Carter Nofziger (9) shows off the Region 26 regional trophy after the Rockets fell to Norwalk St. Paul in the regional finals Friday night. (Putnam Sentinel/Charlie Warnimont)

CLYDE — Pandora-Gilboa football coach Matt Hershey felt his team might gain some early momentum when Norwalk St. Paul mishandled the opening kickoff of their Division VII, Region 26 regional final game.

However, it didn't take the Flyers long to recover from their mistake.

A 57 yard run on their first play from scrimmage moved St. Paul deep into Rocket territory. They scored four plays later and never looked back in ending the Rockets season 49-7 in the regional finals at Robert J. Bishop Stadium in Clyde.

The win sends the top ranked Flyers into the Division VII state semi-finals next Friday against Minster at a site to be announced. Minster defeated Delphos St. John's 21-0 in a Region 28 regional final contest. The Rockets saw their best season in program history end at 10-3.

St. Paul started their opening drive at their own 13 yard line when they failed to handle the opening kickoff. On their first play from scrimmage, Thane Crabbs found some running room going 57 yards to the P-G 30. Four plays later the Flyers were on the scoreboard when Crabbs scored on a nine yard run with 10:27 left in the first quarter as St. Paul had a 7-0 lead with the extra point.

That drive was just the start of things to come for the Flyers as they scored on their first five possessions of the game for a 35-0 lead with 5:28 left in the first half. They failed to score on two late second quarter drives as P-G forced a fumble, which the Rockets recovered, and at the end of the half.

P-G was able to move the ball on the Flyer defense at times, but were unable to sustain any drive for points. St. Paul's defense also picked off two Rocket passes in the first quarter that they were able to turn into points.

Senior Nick Lukasko intercepted two Jared Breece passes in the first quarter, the first resulting in an 11 yard scoring pass to Tyler Cunningham making it a 14-0 game and Crabbs scored after the second interception on a six yard run with 1:30 left in the quarter. That score was set up by a 43 yard pass from Lukasko to Kurt Maxwell.

The Flyers scored twice in the second quarter as Cam Caizzo scored on a 44 yard run with 7:58 left in the half before Crabbs went 13 yards for the Flyers final score of the half for a 35-0 lead.

P-G had a chance late in the second quarter to dent the Flyer lead, after recovering a fumble at the Norwalk 23. P-G drove to the St. Paul six yard line where they faced fourth and goal. After a delay of game penalty, a fourth down pass from the 11 was incomplete.

The Rockets scored on their first possession of the third quarter as they drove 67 yards in seven plays as Carter Nofziger hauled in a 32 yard scoring strike from Breece. With the extra point the Rockets trailed the Flyers 35-7.

Norwalk quickly answered the Rocket score with one of their own as they recovered an onside kick, and with the aid of a personal foul penalty, drove 32 yards in three plays as Brandon Saldusky scored on a seven yard run.

Norwalk's final score came with 9:51 left in the game as Crabbs scored on a one yard run. With the extra point the Flyers had a 49-7 lead.

After scoring on their first drive of the second half, the Rockets were unable to mount another scoring drive as they punted once, had one drive end with a turnover before their final drive ended when the clock ran out.

“They were as good as advertised,” Rocket coach Matt Hershey said. “We tried to play up the fact that they hadn't played anybody, they hadn't been hit by us yet, boy they took all of our words and just put them to us. Hats off them, they are the real deal. There's a reason they are number one.

“Their offensive line was tremendous all night long. We looked over and which ever way they were going, our defense, it created a curve in our front. What ever they are doing it definitely works. To be in this position again, with their success, they definitely have figured something out.”