It’s not like the capacity is all that impressive at Kenston’s Bombers Stadium, and so, when the neighboring Chagrin hopefuls only accounted less than 50 percent of their usual ticket quota, doubt resonated in a Tiger community that has had the pleasure of six consecutive playoff-win seasons and two state championship appearances.
The host Bombers weren’t feeling sorry, especially after a 14-7 loss last year.
“We know they’re good competition. It’s a rivalry,” Kenston junior quarterback Parker Gdula said. “So it’s a tradition that we know they’re going to come out, play hard, and our goal all week was just to do well and not worry about the records. We throw that out of the way and just know that we have to play 100 percent.”
Coming off two straight shutout victories, Kenston won the coin toss and elected to put its defense on the field to start the game. Forcing two Chagrin three-and-outs, the Bombers had the field-position battle in their favor when senior Lovell Spruce partially blocked a Tiger punt to give his offense a short field.
Four plays later, on fourth and two, Kenston sophomore running back James Thigpen got the scoreboard operator busy on a 25-yard touchdown run, when he was closed off up the gut, broke to the outside and applied a shimmy-shake move on a Tiger secondary for the score.
The reservation for six was his first of 13 carries for 71 yards and two touchdowns en route to a 38-10 Bomber triumph – the biggest margin of victory against Chagrin since a 49-7 hurting on the Tigers in 1995.
“Well, coach has a saying – bang it, bend it, bounce it,” Thigpen said about his rerouted touchdown run. “You bang the hole. If it’s not there, you bend out. And then you bounce it and get as much yardage as you can, and that’s what I did. I saw it closing, and I had to get out and gain some yards to help us out to move the ball and get a first down.”
On defense, Kenston’s quick-end combo of Lovell Spruce and fellow senior Will Bush were hallmarks to a seven-sack performance for the Bombers, as Chagrin junior quarterback Michael Brigeman – who completed 11 of 24 passes for 170 yards – did the most with his limited protection.
In the first quarter, Bush collected a fumble induced by a sandwich tackle from Kenston defensive backs Charlie Randall and Ryan Cozzens. And in the second quarter, Bush grabbed his first career interception thanks to quarterback pressure from senior lineman Ben Blazek up the middle and junior linebacker Colin Kure from the outside.
“The first turnover, I just saw the ball between the receiver’s legs, and I grabbed it, gladly,” Bush said. “And then the interception, it came right to me, and I was a little shocked to see the ball in my hands. Oh, it felt good. I wish I could have scored.”
Those changes in possession led to a 22-yard field goal by senior Parker Deuley and a 4-yard touchdown run by Thigpen, whose score was set up by a 37-yard Houdini catch by senior Jay Weemhoff.
Weemhoff, who finished with five catches for 89 yards, had a 28-yard snag earlier in the second quarter in similar fashion, when the pigskin arrived opposite of his intended shoulder – forcing him to make a 360-degree jump in stride, catching the ball with his back downfield before completing his twist.
“Well, Weemhoff’s awesome,” Gdula said simply. “He actually joined this team late in the summer. So he didn’t get a lot of reps with us, and every week he’s been working more into the offense. He goes up, makes big plays, and it’s awesome having him.”
While Weemhoff made his quarterback look good a few times in the game, Gdula did his fair share of polishing for his receivers, including on a 55-yard touchdown drive with 1:02 left in the first half for a 24-0 lead at intermission.
A pump fake by Gdula drew a Tiger cornerback off coverage, forcing a Chagrin passing interference, which then set up a quick-release, 14-yard touchdown pass to senior Jake Silbermann, who weaved his way by four defenders and into the end zone.
Leading the Bombers’ receiving unit, however, was senior Jeremy Wyers, who tallied seven catches for 163 yards, including a 69-yard play that set up first and goal late in the third quarter. Finishing the drive, Wyers scored his second 1-yard touchdown carry to give his team a 38-3 lead and a running clock.
“It’s nice to know coach appreciates me to hand me the ball on those 1-yard touchdowns, although I kind of let him down the first time with a fumble,” Wyers said. “But we put a new package together with our middle linebacker Zach Silbermann leading the way, and I just run behind him, through the tackles and into the end zone, and that’s the way we do it.”
In the 59 years between the two schools, with Chagrin having a 33-26 series advantage, Friday’s game was Kenston’s fourth largest margin of victory, only bested by triumphs in 1986, 33-0, in 1992, 30-0, and 1995, 49-7.
“All year, this is like the biggest game,” Wyers said. “Anytime you can embarrass a rival, especially after last year, it’s like the greatest feeling in the world.”
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