It was supposed to be a rebuilding year.
Kenston graduated 26 seniors from its 2012 football team that won the school’s first playoff game since 1995.
Only 14 players climbed up the ranks to senior status this year, and Kenston had never earned back-to-back playoff appearances since the district’s first football season in 1952.
Finishing their 2013 regular season at 7-3, however, the Bombers defied the odds and get to play extra football when they travel to Akron to take on the top-seeded St. Vincent-St. Mary Fighting Irish at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
“Yeah, it’s the first time ever in Kenston history,” second-year head coach Jeff Grubich said about clinching back-to-back playoff berths. “So that’s something for our senior class to be proud of.”
After muscling by West Geauga with a week-nine victory, 38-24, the Bombers battled Aurora last Friday for a shot at a Chagrin Valley Conference title and a home playoff game but came up short, 63-28.
Four Kenston interceptions – two returned for touchdowns – missed tackles on defense and breakdowns in coverage on special teams against the Greenmen were quite uncharacteristic from what went on the previous week at West Geauga, Grubich said.
Despite the loss, the Bombers’ offense outgained Aurora, 415-412 yards.
“We had to watch the game film, because we just made too many mistakes,” Grubich said of the painful process. “We wanted to show the kids that, ‘Hey, listen. If we correct these mistakes, we’re a pretty gosh darn good football team, and the outcome could have been different.'”
Nonetheless, not very many people in the community or the football world expected the Bombers to be playing week-10 football with such high stakes on the line, he said.
St. Vincent-St. Mary, meanwhile, finished its regular season flawless at 10-0, including notable wins against Walsh Jesuit, 35-20, Cardinal Mooney, 25-0, Massillon Washington, 28-23, and a week-10 rout against Youngstown Ursuline, 40-7.
The Fighting Irish finished as the No. 1-ranked team among Division III contenders in Ohio, according to Associated Press pollsters.
Also, according to CBS Sports pollsters on maxpreps.com, the Fighting Irish are ranked fourth among all teams in Ohio, only behind Division I juggernauts St. Edward, Archbishop Moeller and Colerain.
While the Fighting Irish have been dominant all over the gridiron, St. Vincent-St. Mary is sparked by Ohio State University recruit Parris Campbell, who had a breakout game last season in the state championship, when he ran for 165 yards on 14 carries with three touchdown to help secure a 42-21 title against Bellvue.
That was the Fight Irish’s fifth state title, and sports enthusiasts throughout Ohio are predicting a sixth state banner for them this season.
Kenston is used to being the underdog and coming out with victories, like when the Bombers beat Chagrin Falls, 28-17, in the regular season last year and when they defeated top-seeded Tallmadge, 26-23, in the 2012 playoffs, Grubich said.
“We played the No. 1 seed last year in the playoffs, and we were able to knock them off,” Grubich said. “So it’s a challenge. We’ve always said that you’ve got to beat the best to be the best, and our kids get that chance week one of the playoffs. So it’ll be a good measurement of how good our football program really is.”
TONY’S TAKE: Kenston stuns the football world, 34-31.