At this point last season, the junior RB Pedro Velasco had no varsity carries.
By the end of the season, Velasco had one carry for one yard.
A combination of a crowded backfield and a tender shoulder — Velasco was the team’s shutdown cornerback — limited his play.
Yet this year, with five TD’s and 250 yards in two games, the senior has proven quickly he is a varsity ballcarrier.
“I felt great,”Velasco said after slashing through a Chardon defense for 141 yards, leading his Bombers to a 31-21 win. “I got my blocks. They beat us twice last year, we just wanted to come back, get the win.”
Velasco also slipped in that he attended Chardon as a freshman before moving to Kenston. Beating his old school put a smile on his face.
“He actually ran all over us his freshman year,” Kenston head coach Jeff Grubich said. “We told him it was his week to return the favor, wearing a Bomber uniform.”
The Bombers, now 1-1, went a long way toward erasing last season’s 0-2 start, something that the coaching staff remembered as it prepared its team for Week 2.
“I’m going to be honest, you made too many mistakes,” Grubich told his team after its 48-21 loss to Div. I Solon. “The good thing, men, is you are there — you are there. You were there to make the plays. Now we have to execute. Now we have to finish the plays.”
Grubich continued: “And we will beat Chardon next week. Understand? We are going to beat Chardon in Week 2.”
Kenston executed, finished plays and beat Chardon, ruining the Hilltoppers’ home opener.
“Be proud of what you did,” Grubich told his team afterward. “That’s a great team effort all the way around. I’m proud as hell of you guys. Was that fun? I loved it, I loved it.”
Sophomore Kenston QB Parker Gdula ran a no-huddle hurry-up spread offense with poise, completing 19 of 25 passes for 211 yards.
With 4- and 5-wide receiver sets, the Bombers’ offense spread out a Chardon defense, allowing Velasco his big day.
“We came out firing on all cylinders from practice,” said lineman Nick Lewis. “We had a great week. We were really prepared. We’re just getting hard work done at practice.”
Senior Sam Gambatese, a LB, thought the same of the defense.
“We’ve been practicing all week,” he said, walking to the bus. “We were setting up all week to stop (the Wing-T), and the defense played every play. It was a relentless effort. It just shows hard work pays off. It’s the most amazing feeling ever.”
Receivers Jeremy Wyers, Brian Bindernagel and Jake Silberman all caught passes that were dropped against Solon. Wyers had five catches for 63 yards.
“On offense, we sort of had it our way the whole time,” the junior Wyers said. “I feel like as long as we finish the plays, nobody’s going to be able to stop us.”
Silberman had a key TD pass in the third quarter when he took a button hook into the center of the field, beating an overplaying Chardon secondary. The 27-yard strike from Gdula gave Kenston a 21-14 lead.
The Hilltoppers were led by QB?Patrick Sullivan, HB Joe Connick and HB Jordan Barrett. FB Ben Cyvas had a 1-yard TD run for the Hilltoppers’ first score.
Connick scored from 25 yards out. And Barrett scored on a 4-yard run in the fourth quarter.
But it was the inability to score right before halftime that gave Kenston momentum headed into halftime.
With 12 seconds left in the second quarter, with the ball inside the 1-yard line, Chardon tried to run the ball through the Kenston line. A fumbled snap broke up the play, and Sullivan was stopped short. Chardon could only watch the seconds tick off the clock. And the Bombers ran into halftime as if they had won the game.
“I won’t lose a second of sleep,”Hewitt said of the decision. “If you can’t score from the 1-inch line, you don’t deserve the ball, ever. That’s an inch.”
The Hilltoppers have started the season 0-2 with close losses to two Geauga County rivals: West Geauga and Kenston.
“I don’t think many people go undefeated,” Hewitt said aftereward. “I think this is a great opportunity to teach kids character, teach kids resiliency, and how to bounce back up.”
It will have to be the seniors if Chardon is to turn around the season.
Joe Connick, who leads the team with 10 yards per carry and starts at the physically challenging defensive position of strong safety, sent a message to his teammates after the game.
“We fought, but we can’t lose at home,” he said. “That’s the bottom line. We have to be rougher. Right now we’re not tough. We have to hate to lose more than we love to win. For some people that’s not in their mind yet.”
Senior lineman Max Menko addressed his team during the post-game huddle in the north endzone. After that speech, he said he was impressed with the way the team played after losing last week.
“We came to battle, but we came up short,” he said. “I’m excited to see what’s going to happen next week.”
The Hilltoppers take on the John Adams Rebels in Week 3. The Rebels have started the season 0-2.
Of losing the first two games, Menko said: “It’s definitely not what I expected, but we can’t let it get us down. It’s not the way we want to be, but we can always make our future what we want it to be.”
Coach Hewitt thought the team improved in some areas, but added: “We have a long way to go.”
Some of the positive things?
Hewitt paused a long while.
“I think Joe Fodor played hard tonight. I think Jordan Barrett played well tonight. I think Patrick’s progressing at QB. We have a very complicated offense.”
The absence of Matt Boldin has really hurt the Chardon offense. The senior fullback was a focal point last season, but has dealt with a knee injury during the offseason. It is unclear if Boldin will be able to play this season.
“We’ll bounce back,” said Connick. “These coaches have done so much for us, we’re not going to lie down for them.”