Published in The News-Herald
August 22, 2018
Three-tenths of a point.
Three-tenths of a stinkin’ point.
It was Oct. 27 as the members of the Kenston football team trudged into the locker room following a 38-8 win over South in the regular-season finale.
The Bombers had just capped an 8-2 season with a four-game winning streak.
It was supposed to be jubilant the following morning, with plans being made for a Week 11 playoff game.
And all the Bombers could do was hope against hope that the mathematics were wrong — that three-tenths of a point wasn’t going to keep them out of the playoffs.
“I remember coming in that day because everyone was down,” said offensive lineman George Sell. “It was unbelievable. That point system is kinda crazy.”
The final tally punched the Bombers in the gut. Yeah, they finished 8-2 with a composite computer score of 21.0500 — good enough to be a playoff team in any of the other three Division III regions.
But what it meant in Region 9 was ninth place — one spot out of the playoff picture.
So as the 2018 season nears, the Kenston Bombers feel they have a point to make.
At least three-tenths of a point to make.
“We know we went 8-2 and didn’t make the playoffs,” said junior quarterback Jon Tomcufcik. “So this year we’ve got to come out every game. We can’t have any flat games. We’ve got to bring it every game.”
There’s a different buzz in Kenston’s camp this August. The close miss last year has the Bombers thinking and dreaming big. Aside from a 52-48 loss to WRC champion Brush and a devastating 38-12 loss to Mayfield the following week, the Bombers were perfect last season.
In his seventh season, Coach Jeff Grubich has seven starters back on offense and nine back on defense.
With that group of returners back from a team that went 8-2 last year, if Grubich hoped his team was going to fly under the radar this year, he’s mistaken.
To a man, each WRC coach has said the high-flying Bombers are the team to beat this year in league play.
“We are very excited,” Grubich said. “We were down in the valley for a while and now we’re climbing up the hill. We have good kids with talent. Our job is to coach them up and get the most out of them. It’s a fun time here at Kenston.”
What’s not to like about the Kenston offense?
Junior Jack Porter is coming off a sophomore season in which he ran for 1,447 yards and 20 touchdowns, making him a first team Division III All-Ohioan.
Classmate Tomcufcik threw for more than 1,500 yards in his first year of starting at quarterback. Not only does he have his favorite target, Bransen Stanley, back, but 6-5 freshman Ryan Miller is also part of the deep receiving corps.
The entire offense operates behind a massive offensive line that includes Alex Robarge (6-4, 315) and Sell (6-4, 270).
“Alex and George, we’ve had a lot of schools in to see them — Michigan State, Ohio State, OU, Bowling Green, Findlay,” Grubich said. “I think we’ll see something (offer-wise) in the next couple months.”
Of the offensive skillset, Grubish said, “We knew (Porter and Tomcufcik) were pretty good. They’re going to get better and better… B-Stanley is a great kid, captain and emotional leader.”
Defensively, the entire linebacking corps is back, as are the cornerbacks. Unfortunately, senior linebacker Sam Leygraaf tore his ACL in a non-contact drill recently and will miss the season.
“I planted my foot and it gave out. I felt it,” Leygraaf said. “It’s bad luck, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I am just going to do everything I can to help these guys, coach them up from the sidelines and help us get to the playoffs.”
The Bombers are looking at this season as having little margin for error. After all, a year ago 8-2 wasn’t enough to get into the playoffs.
A look at the Division III, Region 9 shows why. The likes of Canfield, Medina Buckeye, Woodridge, NDCL, Alliance, Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary, Tallmadge and Aurora call Region 9 home.
>> Division III, Region 9 football playoff projection for 2018
The players lament last year’s two losses. The 52-48 loss to Brush stung because All-Ohio quarterback Godwin Joe drove the team for the winning touchdown with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game.
The players call the following week’s loss to Mayfield inexcusable.
“Coming off homecoming, we had Mayfield and we didn’t play well,” Porter said.
So this year, the Bombers want to leave nothing to chance.
“Coach Grubich always says ‘11 at home,’ ” Tomcufcik said. “That means our 11th game is a playoff game. Our school has never hosted a playoff game. That’s our goal this year, to host a playoff game.”
Grubich is taking the season step-by-step, starting with the opener against Streetsboro. The Bombers want to go 3-0 in the nonconference schedule and then attack a Western Reserve Conference slate that Grubich said provides no breathers.
This is the year Kenston has had circled on the calendar for quite some time. The bitter pill of going 8-2 last season makes the hunger that much greater.
“I go back to my roots at Mentor where Coach (Steve) Trivisonno says, ‘If you go 10-0, they can’t keep you out (of the playoffs),” Grubich said. “If we win all 10, there’s not really a chance the state of Ohio can eliminate us from the playoffs. We’ll take it one game at a time, but the end goal is to try and win all 10. If we do that and handle our business, we’ll have a Week 11.”
And maybe that ghost of three-tenths of a point will finally be exorcised.
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